Standard disclaimer: Except for Doctor Elizabeth Corday, none of the characters, places, etc. in this story are mine, but are instead the property of Bethesda Game Studios. No copyright infringement is intended by their use in this story.
Author's note: I always liked Gob, and this story is my attempt to send him on the Hero's Journey. Normally Hero's Journey-type stories just aren't my thing—the format has been so overused these days that I often find it, if not very carefully done, formulaic and predictable—but I wanted a chance to give Gob the adventure he had always been looking for, and this format just naturally seemed to lend itself to that. I perceive what I've written as a fairy tale done Fallout-style, complete with happy ending (hope I haven't given anything away!) I've taken some liberties with some elements of the Fallout 'verse to make this story work as I wanted it to (I'd mention details, but that would be spoiling), so I hope nothing I have done is too jarring to anyone.
Just a short note on Doctor Elizabeth Corday: for those who have been following my story series, I intended her to be the same doctor who treated both Samantha and Charon in NTRW, and yes, she is loosely inspired by the ER character of the same name. I had actually intended the scene between her and Gob to go completely differently, but somehow she popped in there and it just wouldn't work. Anyway, that's enough from me. Enjoy the story, and thanks as always to my wonderful beta, LadyKate, for being willing to beta this monster of a fic!
It was a dark and stormy night.
Rain no longer fell in the Capital Wasteland, but windstorms were not unknown, particularly during spring and fall; they could blow for hours, toppling dead trees and power lines, tearing rusty tin roofs right off of corrugated metal houses, and dumping quantities of brown, mildly radioactive dust over everything. No one liked to be out in such weather; when this one had started, Moriarty had locked up the tavern and gone to bed, secure in the knowledge that it would pass by morning. Gob had turned in too, and Nova had retired hours earlier with Jericho to the room where she conducted her business. Nothing to do, Moriarty had thought as he crawled under his blankets, but let it blow itself out.
It had been very much to his surprise when the pounding started a few hours later.
At first, Moriarty thought it was part of a dream; he rolled over, coming half-awake, and buried his head under the pillow, hoping it would go away. Instead, it grew louder and louder: Wham! Wham! Wham! It sounded almost as if a Super-Mutant Behemoth was out there, bashing on the door so hard that the rickety structure shook, and Moriarty muttered a curse under his breath.
"Moriarty! Moriarty! Open up!"
The note of desperation in the shouter's voice pulled him to full wakefulness; growling under his breath and promising a thousand curses on whoever it was down there, he rolled out of bed, made sure his shotgun was to hand, and pulled on his clothes. He threw open the door to his room, and looked over the railing. The pounding came again, even louder this time.
"What's going on, Colin?" Nova was standing in the door of her room, dressed in her sexy sleepwear and rubbing at her eyes. Behind her in the big double bed, Colin could see Jericho sprawled out asleep; the ex-Raider's rasping snores filled the air. Drunk as a skunk and dead to the world, he thought cynically.
"Can't say, lassie." Colin checked the third doorway on the balcony; Gob was up too, hovering just inside the entrance to his tiny closet and looking nervous. Probably afraid that whatever trouble there might be down there would land on him, Colin thought, and his mouth twitched. That damn zombie is worse than useless. The pounding came again, and the entire building shook; dust sifted down from the ceiling.
"Nova, lassie, you still have that 10mm pistol I gave you for defense?" She nodded. "Go get it. Gob," he directed the ghoul, "take the baseball bat. Both of ye, follow me downstairs."
Nova was gone into her room almost before Colin finished speaking. A moment later, she appeared, calmly loading her weapon. Quick study, that lass. Wish I had ten more like her. Gob swallowed nervously. "Yessir, Mr. Moriarty, sir," he stammered, and ducked back into his room; he reappeared with his hands clenched white-knuckled on the bat. Colin chambered a shell as the pounding continued.
"You'll be remembering how to use that, lass?" he asked, indicating the pistol.
Nova gave him a cool glance. "Colin," she said, "a girl in my line of work has to know how to look after herself. Don't worry about me."
Ice cold as well, he thought approvingly. "That's my girl. Come on," he said, and headed down the rickety metal stairs, his two employees following.
The pounding came again as he reached the floor, so hard that the door almost jumped out of its frame, and there was a despairing cry: "Please, Moriarty, for the love of God, open up!"
"That voice sounds familiar," he mused aloud. With his weapon in one hand, he directed Nova and Gob to take up covering positions. "Ready? Count of three….One…Two…Three!"
On three, Moriarty wrenched open the door, raising his shotgun in the same moment to point it directly into the face of….
"Moriarty, thank God," the Vault kid almost sobbed. "I thought you were never going to answer." She started toward him and Moriarty stepped out of the way with alacrity; except for her helmet, the kid was dressed in the suit of green powered armor that he had seen her wearing whenever she left town, complete with arcs of electricity crackling around the armor's surface. He had no idea where she'd gotten it, nor did he want to know; but he had heard that the only people around here with armor like that were Enclave soldiers. At least that explains how she was able to pound the door so hard, he thought, and glanced again at the thin sheet of metal, half-expecting to see fist-shaped impressions punching right through it.
"What brings ye here this time o' night?"
The kid turned toward him. Under the better lighting of the saloon, he could see that she was deathly pale, almost gray-faced, with smudges under her eyes that were so dark they resembled bruising. "I need to hire Gob," she said desperately. "I need to hire him now!"
Colin glanced at the ghoul, frankly bewildered. Of all the things I thought I'd hear her say…. "Ye'll be wantin'….Gob, then?" He raised a brow. "Honestly, I never figured ye for that sort of thing." Though maybe I should have, given how that Charon follows her around. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nova put her hands on her hips, looking rather insulted; Gob himself backed up a step, his eyes wide with shock. Colin suspected that if he could have, the ghoul would have been blushing furiously. "Nova's generally the one who handles that kind of thing around here, but if that's yer fancy and you've got the caps, who am I t' deny ye? Gob," he ordered with a shrug, "make the lady happy."
Something like panic leapt across the ghoul's decayed features, and he backed up another step, raising his hands. "M—Mister Moriarty, I—I—I don't—I—"
"You do know how to make a lady happy, don't ye?" Colin pressed, at the urging of some inner devil. I'd bet caps he doesn't, he thought. Who'd want him?
"No!" Samantha cried. "Not for me—for Charon!"
The panic on Gob's face deepened into outright horror; Colin turned to stare at him openly. "You and the tall one, eh?" Colin frowned. "Is there somethin yer not tellin me, boyo?"
Gob opened and shut his mouth, but nothing came out beyond random syllables.
"Not like that!" Samantha practically screamed. She slammed her armor-clad fists down on the countertop, and Colin heard an ominous crack. If it's broken, yer payin for that, lass, he thought. "Listen!"
Nova had been watching her carefully, and now she stepped forward. "Well, calm down and we will, honey," she soothed. "Take a couple deep breaths and start at the beginning, and we'll listen to everything."
Samantha did as she was told, drawing a long breath, then letting it out slowly. Colin fell silent and let Nova work; along with being the best hooker in all Megaton—all right, the only hooker in all Megaton—Nova had a knack for getting information out of people that he had exploited more than once. Now as she coaxed the kid, Colin could see Samantha growing less agitated almost by the moment. Under Nova's gentle persuasion, the kid eventually calmed enough to tell the story.
She and Charon had been on their way back from one of their frequent trips to Rivet City. She has a boy there, Colin remembered, a boy she knew from when she was still on the inside. Dellia something, no, DeLoria. Information like that always came in handy. They had been almost to the gates of Megaton when the two of them had been set upon by Deathclaws. "There've been more and more of them in the area recently," the kid explained, scrubbing at her wet eyes. "I should have been on the alert for them, I should have—"
"Well, just go on, honey," Nova encouraged her. "Tell it the best you can."
Samantha had managed to kill one, then had turned toward the other just in time to see it pick up her follower in its massive claws. "He had metal armor on but it just sliced through the armor like paper," she said, shuddering. "It picked him up and…and tore at him, and then it threw him, maybe ten, twenty feet. I could—" She shivered again. "I could see the blood trailing. He landed against some rocks and there was a crack. Like sticks breaking. Doc Church says it was his ribs—all of them." She had managed to drive it off, but Charon had been severely injured, bleeding, more dead than alive. Samantha had taken him in her arms, and with the benefit of her powered armor, had managed to carry him back to Megaton.
"I went straight to the clinic," she said, "and Doc Church did everything he could, but he said the wounds were too bad, and all he could do was buy Charon some time. Maybe a day, two if he was lucky. He said—" She took a gulp of air. "He said there was only one chance."
"What was that?" Colin asked, frowning.
"Radiation." Samantha swallowed. "You know how it heals ghouls. Church said it was the only thing that could help him."
"That so?" Colin raised an eyebrow. "Well, then it's in the right place you are, lassie. Just take yer rotten friend right to the crater in center of town and leave him there for a day."
The Vault kid shook her head. "It's not enough. Doc Church said he'd need tons of it. Like, more rads than most people take in an entire lifetime, an impossible amount—"
"Sounds like yer out o' luck then, doesn't it?" Colin said sardonically. "There's no place around here ye can get rads like that—"
"There is." Samantha's jaw set, in a manner at odds with her teary expression. "I know exactly where to get that kind of radiation; the only problem is, I can't get in there without getting fried myself. And that's why I need Gob," she said, flinging out a desperate hand toward the ghoul. "I can bring Charon as far as I can, and Gob can take him the rest of the way in. I came here right away to get him—You've got to let me hire him, Moriarty," she begged. "I'll pay—" The kid broke off, and Moriarty nodded to himself; not so desperate as to promise recklessly. At least, not yet, he thought with cynical amusement. "I've got caps. I can pay you as many caps as you want—just name your price."
Colin tilted his head, thinking it over. The kid watched him, her face hollow with despair, lit by the crackling arcs of electricity from her armor. Nova and Gob were silent; Nova's expression was unreadable, but Gob's eyes kept bouncing from him to the kid and back again, and the ghoul swallowed apprehensively. "So…let me get this straight," Moriarty said at length. "You want to hire Gob—"
"Yes," the kid said at once, nodding for emphasis.
"To go wi' ye and yer follower there—"
"Yes." She scrubbed at her face again.
"Off to some god-forsaken place—"
Moriarty thought for a moment. "That's not one I've heard of."
"It's not around here," she snapped. "Goddamn it, Colin—"
"Settle down, missy." Colin mentally added another hundred caps to his tally of what he would charge her, then continued, "So that Gob there can take yer follower into the heat t' be healed?"
"Yes!" Samantha practically sobbed. "Colin, will you—"
"Why, then, it's a business proposition you have for me," he exclaimed, and hooked an ankle around the nearest bar stool. Dragging it out from the bar, he slid onto it with a sigh of relief. "Have a seat, lassie. Gob!" he snapped at the ghoul; Gob jumped. "Get behind there. Pour me some whiskey, the good stuff, top shelf." He paused. "Ah, it's generous I'm feeling. Pour a shot for yerself too, boyo, seein' as how yer the cause of this conversation. And Nova, so she don't feel left out. Any for you, lass?" he asked, turning to face Samantha.
"What are you doing?" Samantha cried. "I don't have time for this—"
Moriarty fixed her with a look. "You've offered me a business proposition," he told her sternly. "I never hurry business. Bad luck."
"But Charon may be dying right now—"
"Then that should lend a pleasant sense of urgency to the proceedings, shouldn't it?" Gob set up the glasses on the bar, keeping his head down; Colin picked up the one in front of him and tossed the amber liquid back. "Drink up, me boy," he chided Gob.
"Mister Moriarty, I don't—"
"I said, drink, boyo. So yer drinkin." Moriarty fixed him with an eye. Reluctantly, Gob picked up one of the glasses and swallowed, spluttering and coughing a bit. Colin turned his attention back to Samantha, who looked like to be crawling out of her skin. "First things first, lass. What collateral d'ye offer?"
"Colla—what?" Samantha demanded. "Colin, please—"
"Collateral," he repeated. "In other words, what assurance do I have that you'll be bringing him back? It'd be the easiest thing in the world for you to take Gobbie here and high-tail it the minute you get outside the walls of Megaton, so unless I have some kind o' security from ye that that won't happen, it's here he stays." It was no secret that Gob's hatred of working for him was matched only by his, Moriarty's utter indifference to it; there was no doubt in his mind that the ghoul would bolt at the first chance he got without some fairly strong restraints. Probably get caught by Raiders and killed two miles down the road, as well. And then I'd be out my investment. "Show me what ye've got, lass."
"What I—" Samantha cast around, utterly dumbfounded. The arclights from her armor crackled, lighting her face green and reflecting off trails of moisture down her cheeks. "I—I give you my word."
"Not good enough. If that's all you'll be offering, then this conversation goes no further. What've you got?" Colin demanded, leaning forward for emphasis.
"I've got—I—I don't know," the kid said desperately.
Colin winced inwardly. Christ on a crutch, lass, you'd've done better to just hand me yer wallet. Never start the deal without knowing the four essentials: what you'll offer, what you'll ask, what you'll take and what you'll give. For a moment, he almost regretted what he was about to do; then he saw Nova standing off to the side, arms folded, giving him her best disapproving expression. Dearie, that look right there just cost yer friend her right arm. And the head-shake cost her the leg.
Patiently, as if leading a child by the hand, Colin said, "Generally speaking, the collateral has to be at least equal to, if not better than, the worth of what's being asked. I'll take no security off ye that's not."
"Colin, Charon is severely wounded—" The kid's voice cracked.
"Yes, and he'll be no less wounded for taking a few moments out to chat, so hold yer Brahmin while we do this up right." Colin eyed her. "The only thing I can think of that you own of equivalent worth to Gob there—put a drop i' the glass, boyo," he added, snapping his fingers, "is the deed to yer Megaton house." That was untrue; that fancy set of armor she was sporting was probably worth at least as much if not more. But the armor's no good to me if I can't sell it. "I'll be having that deed locked safe in me strongbox before the two of you leave town." Gob set the glass before him, still keeping his head down; Colin gulped it in a single swallow.
"Done," the kid said instantly, and Colin allowed himself a small smile. Kiss it goodbye, girl, for you'll not be seeing it again. "I want to leave within the hour—"
"Not so fast," he chided her. "That's just the collateral; now we have to discuss the price."
"The price?" Samantha's face turned red. "Moriarty, you—you—" She bit her words back, struggling.
"Do you want Gob or not?" he asked her bluntly. "If you do, you'll settle down and do things my way. Now then. How much are you offering?"
"How much?" Colin raised a brow. "Yer taking Gob away from me at the height of caravan season, when I'm needing him more than ever to run the bar. How am I supposed to get by without his services for however long it takes ye to get there and back again—and what if he dies out there? Where am I going to get the wherewithal to buy another servant?" That eventuality would be covered by the collateral, but the kid didn't need to know that. "And then there's pain and suffering. How can I stand to be apart from me puir, puir Gobbie?" he asked, sighing theatrically, then clapped a hand on Gob's shoulder; Gob winced at the force of the blow and regarded Moriarty with alarm. "Why, the lad is practically like a son to me," he added, reaching out and hugging Gob hard enough to make him squirm. "All these things cost caps, my girl, and lots of them. What have you got?"
Samantha stared at him with wide and teary eyes, clearly trying to process what he had said through her tired and panicked brain. "I—I—Here," she said, visibly giving up. She tossed a burlap bag into the middle of the floor; it clanked heavily as it landed. "That's eleven thousand caps. It's all I have. Colin, please—"
Colin raised a mental set of eyebrows; he had heard around town that the kid was loaded, but he had no idea how much. No way she could have made that much scavving; some of those things they say about her and side jobs must be true. "That'll do for a start, lass. What else?"
"What—else?" She rubbed at her eyes with one hand. "I don't know. I don't know. Armor. Weapons. Chems. Just tell me what you want, but give me Gob, Colin!"
"What armor? What weapons? What chems? Come on, girl, be specific."
"I don't keep a list!" Samantha practically screamed. "God damn you, Colin—" Her voice cracked again.
"Now then, there's no need for that sort of language, lass," Colin chided her primly. The kid's armor crackled again, washing her face green. He saw Gob looking from the kid to him, with fear and something that looked very like loathing in his decayed eyes; while Nova was watching him with her arms folded like a judge on hanging day. He shrugged mentally. There were few things he cared for less than the opinions of his employees. And suddenly he found himself wondering how far the kid would be willing to go.
"I'll tell you what I'll do for you, lass. Out of the goodness of my heart." He leaned back on his stool. "In addition to the caps you've offered, you hand over…" He stroked his chin, pretending to think. "Oh, say, everything you've got, and you can have Gob."
Samantha took a step back. She paled even further. "Ev…everything?" she asked in a faint voice.
Time to go for the hard sell. Moriarty leaned forward, holding her eyes. "Ye heard me, kiddo. Everything. Every stick and stone. All yer worldly possessions, as the Good Book says. That's what it'll cost to take Gob out of this town. I've heard ye've quite a bit of wealth stored in that rickety shack of yers, and that'll just about do to buy the life of yer follower. That's what we're really talking about here, after all."
"I—I—" the kid stammered. "I—Colin, I—"
"Yer follower isn't worth that much to ye? Shame. Ah well." He paused, and eyed her. That was the bait; here comes the switch. "Of course, if ye were willin to be … friendly … now, I could knock a bit off that."
"Friend…ly?" The kid repeated the word as if she had no idea what it meant.
"Aye. What I said." Colin leaned on the bar and gave her his best roguish smile. Liquid nitrogen would have been warmer than Nova's expression, while Gob looked horrified. Colin ignored both of them. Truth be told, the kid wasn't his type; too young, too skinny, and too haunted-looking, especially at the moment. He supposed she was all right, but Nova knocked her out of the park. But an intense curiosity possessed him to see how she would react.
Samantha's voice dropped in temperature with each successive syllable, until it was a match for Nova's expression. Colin raised an eyebrow, keeping the pressure on.
"Nay, that's not what I said. I said I'd be willing to knock some off the price if you were. Those are your choices, lass: either you hand over everything you own, or we go up to my room and you show good ol' Moriarty a little affection. Yer decision. What's the life of yer friend worth to ye?"
The kid had gone totally still. What little color remained in her face fled; she was pale as death, paler even than Gob. The lightning of her armor crackled, wreathing around her. He had seen ghouls that looked healthier than she did. She stared at him for a long moment, her face frozen, then drew herself up. "I don't have time for this," she said quietly. She indicated the burlap bag. "There are eleven thousand caps in there. That is what I am prepared to pay for hiring Gob. Take it or leave it. That is my final offer. "
"No," Colin said, shaking his head, "it isn't."
"Nay, and I'll tell you why." He regarded her coolly. "Because you have to have Gob." He gestured toward the ghoul, who stared at him, appalled. "No matter what the cost. If you don't have him, then yer friend dies, and I know you well enough to know you'll not let that happen. I, on the other hand, don't have to give Gob to you. And because of that—because ye have to buy but I don't have to sell—that means the entire game is played by my rules, and the dealing's not done until I say it is. So these are your choices: Everything you own, or showin' Moriarty here a little tenderness. Your choice. How far are ye prepared to go?"
Suddenly the kid was holding a plasma rifle in her hands, aimed directly at him. She had pulled it so fast he hadn't even seen her hands move. Her desperation had fallen away from her like a cloak; he could read nothing but resolve in her calm features, glimmering a demonic green in the arc lighting. A veil had come down behind her bright blue eyes; they were like holes into emptiness. Looking at them sent a chill down Colin's spine—either that, or the knowledge, dawning too late, of just how badly he had overplayed his hand. "Hey, now, lassie—"
"Don't call me 'lassie.'" Her voice was utterly without emotion. "As of right now, I'm no longer asking for Gob. I'm taking him. Gob," she said, very quiet, "get your things and come with me."
A sudden rage burst in Colin's chest, and he started to reach for his shotgun, only to stop as the kid raised her rifle. "Are ye out o' yer bloody mind!?" he snarled instead. "Nova and Gob will kill ye—"
"I don't think they will. In fact, I don't think they can." The transformation in the kid was unbelievable; if Colin hadn't seen it himself, he wouldn't have recognized her. The desperate, crying Vault kid of a few moments ago was gone, and the face of a stone cold killer stared at him over the glowing barrel of the plasma rifle. "This is full Tesla armor I'm wearing. Nova and Gob are armed with a 10-mm pistol and a baseball bat respectively. I think I can soak up enough hits to take you all out if I have to. And I think they know it too." Samantha jerked her head toward Gob without ever taking her eyes off Moriarty. "Gob. Move."
Gob scurried for the stairs, looking both frightened and excited; Moriarty glared after him furiously. "You traitor zombie! Worst day's work I ever did was buyin yer rotting arse!" The ghoul made no reply. Moriarty could hear him shifting things around upstairs. Within moments he was back down again, carrying a small satchel.
"I'm ready," he said, his voice trembling a bit. He spared Moriarty not so much as a glance. The kid nodded.
"Yer a fool, kiddo," Moriarty snarled. "You've made an enemy today. You know that, right? And I'll tell ye: Colin Moriarty is a bad enemy to have. I'll make sure no one in Megaton has anything to do with either o' ye when you return—"
"No. You won't."
The kid raised the rifle and sighted along it. Moriarty went completely still, realizing again just how very badly he had underestimated the kid. She was no longer the naïve little Vaultie she had been when she first came here, no matter how much she might have looked like it; the Wastes had changed her, just as they changed everything, and he had not seen. It had been years—decades—since the last time he had this badly misjudged—
"What—what're ye—going to shoot me, lassie?" he tried to laugh, though his heart seemed to have turned to ice in his chest. "And all over a joke, and me not meaning a word of it? A sweet little thing like you? I can't believe that ye would—"
The kid pulled the trigger. The rifle discharged. Colin saw a flash of brilliant green, and then there was nothing.
Colin disintegrated, collapsing to the floor in a pile of glowing green goo. Nova and Gob both jumped; the kid did not, simply staring at the puddle for a moment. Then she turned back to the two of them. She did not lower her weapon.
"Gob," she said, again very quietly, "come with me. Now."
Gob skittered back a step. The excitement had left his face; now it was all fear. He looked almost sick. The kid was not pointing the plasma rifle at them, precisely, but she wasn't pointing it away, either. The ghoul swallowed.
"Nova?" he faltered. "Wh—what—"
Nova studied the kid. In her line of work, it was imperative to be able to read people well; she could tell that the kid was tired, frightened and desperate—desperate enough to kill—but not dangerous. Not if she were not crossed. She made no hostile move, simply waiting patiently for Gob to join her. And, truth be told, Nova couldn't blame her for her action in shooting Colin. After a moment, she said, "I think it's all right. Go with her, Gob. She needs your help."
"Thank you, Nova," the kid said, closing her eyes in relief. The bag of caps she had offered Moriarty still lay in the center of the floor; now the kid kicked it toward her. "Keep it. You can split it between the two of you when he gets back. Call it the hiring fee for Gob, or the cost to buy him out if you want. Or my contribution to the upkeep of the saloon." She gave a brief, exhausted laugh. "I've got to go."
She turned toward the door, gesturing Gob toward it with her plasma rifle. Nova called after her, "Simms is going to be here in the morning." If not sooner. "He'll want to know what happened to Colin."
The kid glanced back over her shoulder. Nova was struck once again by how utterly pale she looked. "Tell him the truth. Tell him everything. If he wants to kick me out of Megaton for it—well, then, so be it. Right now—" She ran one hand over her face. "I can't think about that right now. I have to think about Charon. Wish us luck."
"Good luck," Nova said quietly, and the kid nodded. She held the door open for a still-uneasy Gob, then went through it herself with a final wave. The door slammed, leaving Nova alone in the now-empty room.
A creak from the stairs jerked her attention back that way. She looked up to see Jericho weaving his way down, one hand pressed to his head and the other holding onto the rail to help him keep his balance. He squinted at her blearily. "Hey, baby, any more of that whiskey—whoa, what happened here?" he asked, his eyes widening as he saw the glowing puddle of goo.
"Oh, shut up." Nova stalked off, leaving a puzzled Jericho behind her.