It took them a couple days to get back to Megaton; Samantha set a leisurely pace to help Charon recover his strength. The tall ghoul was ravenous after his rapid healing, as Gob had expected; radiation stimulated the flesh to repair itself, but the raw materials had to come from within Charon's own body, and they needed to be replaced. The rads had given Gob a small gift as well, he noticed on the second day: studying his patchwork arms that morning, he realized that the areas of desiccated skin had grown slightly. The new skin was still hard, dry and leathery—still prone to flaking off—but the gaps of exposed muscle between the patches of remaining skin were smaller than before. It wasn't much of an improvement, but Gob was willing to take anything he could get. Who knew that high rads would have that effect?

Charon quickly consumed all the rations Samantha had brought with them, but fortunately, hunting was good: their small party ran across more than enough mole rats and wild dogs to keep them all supplied with food. Samantha and Charon both tried to show Gob how to shoot the .32 pistol he had hung onto; Gob acquiesced to their attempts to teach him, but privately suspected he would never become very good at it. Along the way Samantha diverted to a Mirelurk spawning ground. After they had killed all the Mirelurks, Mirelurk Hunters and Mirelurk Kings in residence and harvested the eggs, they literally had more Mirelurk Hatchling Meat than the three of them could carry. Gob couldn't eat any of it, of course, but Charon could and did.

"We found a really great recipe for Mirelurk cakes in the Anchorage War Memorial," Samantha confided to Gob. "I'd love to try it sometime, but it requires ingredients we can't easily get these days, like eggs and mayonnaise."

"The Brass Lantern sometimes has them," Gob mentioned. "Maybe you could ask Jenny Stahl what their recipe is."

"Maybe I will. It seems a shame to let all this meat go to waste. What do you think, Charon?"

The other ghoul finished the Mirelurk claw he was working on and glanced over at her. "As you think best, my mistress." Charon was sporting new Talon armor now, and carried an assault rifle at his back, both taken off a group of Talon mercs the three of them had come across near the outskirts of Fort Bannister. They hadn't gone looking for Talon, precisely, but they had taken no especial pains to avoid their headquarters, either; running into a squad of them hadn't exactly been a surprise. After she and her plasma rifle had made short work of them, Samantha had pronounced it "letting nature take its course."

"I saved your shotgun, Charon," she reassured her follower. "It's in the weapons locker back home. We can pick it up when we get back to Megaton." Then she bit her lip and looked down. "If Simms lets me in, that is."

Gob shifted in the brittle grass. The three of them were seated on a low rise under a dead tree, lunching on their provisions; now Gob swallowed a mouthful of mole-rat meat, reached over, and laid a hand on Samantha's shoulder. "You did what you had to do, Samantha," he told her quietly. "Moriarty was being a complete bastard, even for him—take it from me, from someone who knows. It was a life and death situation and you didn't have time to fuck around."

"Yeah…." Samantha sighed. "The question is, will Simms see it that way?"

"I'll tell him for you." Gob squeezed her shoulder. "If he has any questions about it, just tell him to come and ask me."

"Thanks, Gob." Samantha smiled at him. "Oh well," she said, shrugging off her worry like a cloak. "If he does kick me out, then I'll just go to Rivet City. How does that sound to you, Charon?" she asked,

"If it is what you wish, Mistress, then that is what we will do," he replied calmly. Samantha handed him another claw, then tore one in two and tossed half of it to Dogmeat before starting on the other half herself. Gob shaded his eyes and peered across the Wastes in the direction of the walls of Megaton.

They reached the settlement in the late afternoon of their second day of travel. Samantha grew solemn and quiet as soon as the high walls came into view, and only grew quieter the nearer they drew to the town. They greeted Deputy Weld at the entrance, and as the doors swung open, Samantha drew a breath. "Well," she said, setting her jaw, "here goes nothing."

"It'll be okay, Samantha," Gob told her.

"We'll see." She squared her shoulders and marched into the town as if to the gallows.

The usual traffic of Wasteland wanderers and drifters filled the narrow lanes inside the walls; Gob also recognized a few of the townsfolk out and about, even this late. Lucy West nodded to them, and Walter was out looking down at them from the landing around the Water Treatment Plant. The town seemed somehow smaller to him, the buildings more run-down than before. Or was it always this way and I just didn't notice…?

Ahead of him, Samantha stiffened. Gob looked down the path to see Simms approaching, his hat on his head and the silver star of his sheriff's badge shining. Charon stepped to one side of Samantha—into what Gob now recognized as a covering position—and reached back almost idly to touch the stock of his assault rifle, but Samantha herself took no action, simply standing and watching as Simms drew nearer. The sheriff came to a halt, and ran his eyes over the three of them.

"Samantha," he said at last, folding his arms.

Samantha swallowed a bit, and the color in her face deepened, but she bravely held the sheriff's eyes. "Sheriff Simms," she replied.

Simms regarded her for a long moment. "Nova told me about what happened in Moriarty's Saloon the night you left."

Samantha seemed to brace herself. "Sir, I'm sure that whatever she told you was correct," she said.

Simms tilted his head. "She told me how you begged him to let you hire Gob—that you offered him all the caps you had, saying that Charon's life was at stake. She said that when you went to him, Moriarty had been drinking and that he tried to force himself on you—that you had to shoot him in self-defense. That's what happened, isn't it."

It was not a question. He held Samantha's eyes meaningfully. Samantha studied him uncertainly for a moment, then swallowed.

"That's—Close enough, Sheriff," she replied quietly.

Simms nodded. "Then I don't think we need to say any more about this. Your house is still open for you."

Samantha closed her eyes and drew a deep, relieved breath. The tension that she had carried with her all during their return trip seemed to drain from her body, and she looked back at Simms with profound gratitude. "Thank you, Sheriff Simms."

A slight smile came into his eyes. "It's good to have you back, Samantha. The town's been too quiet while you're gone."

"It's good to be back, Sheriff," Samantha replied, heartfelt. As she started off toward her house, Charon and Dogmeat in tow, Simms stopped Gob.

"Oh, Gob—there's good news for you. Apparently, Moriarty's will left the saloon to you and Nova. It's yours now."

Gob turned to look up at the high, boxy shape of the saloon, the building that had been his prison for the past fifteen years. "It's—it's mine?" he asked, bewildered.

"Well, yours and Nova's. If you want it, that is." Simms paused. "I know that you're originally from Underworld—I don't know if you had put any thought into whether you want to stay here or whether you want to go home. If you don't want the saloon, I'm sure that one of the Stahls will be happy to buy your share from you—"

"I—" Gob raised one hand to his forehead. I own the saloon? The idea didn't seem to make any sense to him. "I don't know. I'll—I'll need time to think it over. It's all so fast…."

Suddenly he was exhausted. It was as if the fatigue of the last two days came crashing down on him all at once, leaving him almost too tired to stand; he reached out and put one hand on a nearby water pipe for support. Simms studied him.

"Well, you don't have to decide right now. Why don't you go home and get some sleep? You look like you're about ready to fall over."

"Thanks. I think I will." I own the saloon?he wondered. It didn't make any more sense this time either.

[*]

Nova was there when he got back, but by the time he managed to climb up to Moriarty's, Gob was practically dead on his feet; all he wanted was to crawl into his own bed and sleep for a week. Nova saw this, and sensibly refrained from asking him any questions. Instead, she sat him down at the bar, placed a bowl of squirrel stew in front him, and stood over him with folded arms until he had eaten the whole thing. It took him a while to realize that the bar was unusually empty; when he finally mentioned it to Nova, she explained that she had been keeping the place closed until he and Samantha returned. Gob was too tired to ask her anything else. After he finished the stew, he retreated upstairs, collapsed onto his rusty frame bed with the thin and lumpy mattress, and slept like the dead.

Dead tired or not, fifteen years of habit still held sway: the next morning, Gob woke with the first rays of the sun, slanting in through the gaps and pinprick holes in the outer wall of his room. The usual gut-clenching dread tightened his stomach, and it wasn't until he was frantically lacing his boots that he remembered there was no need for it: Moriarty was not waiting downstairs to belt him one the moment he came down, for being late or lazy or any one of a myriad of other items on the ever-changing list of Ways Gob Could Fuck Up that he kept in his head.

He's dead, Gob reminded himself, and hesitantly began to permit himself to believe it. That son of a bitch is actually dead. It felt like being released from prison. The fingers of fear that clutched his heart began to loosen their grip one by one, and a weight seemed to slowly lift from his shoulders.

He stopped by Nova's room as he usually did in the morning, but her room was already empty. Nor was she in the bar below. He found her outside on the metal landing around the saloon, sitting in one of a pair of flimsy-looking plastic pre-war chairs; she was sipping something from the Vault-Tec mug that Samantha had brought her earlier and watching the sunrise. The sky was a beautiful translucent shell-pink color, streaked with bands of cream and gold; the air was cool, almost chilly. It promised to be a beautiful day.

Nova glanced up as he stepped out on the balcony and gave a slow smile. "Gob," she greeted him, and gestured to the other chair. Gob did not need to be asked twice; he took the seat, stretching his legs out in front of him.

"Did you sleep well?"

"Like a rock," he replied. "I guess it all just caught up with me at once."

"You probably needed it," Nova replied, smiling again. There was a bit of silence as she took another sip from her mug.

"Tea?" Gob asked.

"Just purified water. Oh, I didn't get a chance to mention it last night, but did you hear that Moriarty left us the bar?"

"Yeah, Simms told me when I got back to town." Gob replied. "He also told us what—what you told him about Moriarty," he said, looking at her carefully.

"And?" Nova regarded him, her face inscrutable.

"That was a nice thing you did for Samantha," he said quietly.

Nova shrugged. "What I told Simms was basically what happened. I might have placed more emphasis on some parts of it than others, but it was true: Moriarty was trying to force himself on her and Samantha was defending herself. Just because he didn't take it physical doesn't change what happened—trust a girl like me to know." Nova gave a tight smile. Gob bit his lip.

"Did—did he—"

"Not with me," she replied. "I don't think he quite dared. But I heard rumors that he did with Silver a couple of times, and to be honest, I wouldn't put it past him." Gob nodded slowly. He'd heard the same stories. There was silence for a bit, while around them, the dawn crept into the day.

"What are you going to do with your share, do you know yet?" he asked Nova, changing the subject. Suddenly it occurred to him that Nova might have decided to sell her share and go back to wherever she was from, and his heart sank at the thought.

"I dunno. I'll probably retire," she said, shrugging. "There's only so long a girl can keep going, in my line of work, after all."

"Oh." Gob bit his lip. "Will—will you go away?"

"I don't really have anywhere to go back to," Nova replied calmly, taking another swallow from her cup. "So, probably not. You?" she asked, turning her eyes on him. "You could go back to Underworld, after all."

"I don't know. I don't think so. It—one thing traveling with Samantha showed me is just how dangerous it is out there. I'm not cut out for it," he confessed in resignation. "On my own, I really don't think I could make it."

Nova simply nodded. "Oh, I just remembered," she said suddenly. "We've still got all the caps Samantha brought with her. To hire you from Moriarty?" she said. "I locked the bag up in Colin's safe after you two left, so that none of the drifters could get to them. It's still all there."

"I don't want it," Gob said with a shudder. "Give it back to her. Keeping any of it would feel like keeping blood money. Besides, Colin had no right to it in the first place."

"That's what I thought as well."

There was a bit more silence. Around them, the sounds of the town beginning to stir filled the air. Gob turned his patchwork arms over in the sunlight, examining the new areas of skin again; he almost thought to ask Nova if she'd noticed, then bit it back. A couple more square inches of rotting skin on your arms and legs isn't going to change anything.

"What was it like?" Nova asked him quietly.

Gob looked over at her. "What?"

She tilted her head. "Your journey with Samantha. It's been a long time since I was outside Megaton's walls. What was it like out there?"

"You—you want to hear it?" he asked her.

She smiled slightly. "If you feel like telling it. Yes, I do."

So Gob told her about it, as the morning light strengthened and the sky above Megaton grew paler. He told her about the Raiders; the Hunters of Men; the Enclave and Doctor Corday; about meeting the ghouls in the Waste Disposal Company; he told her about taking Charon into the area around Vault 87, and his encounter with the behemoth there. He was slightly embarrassed to tell her his experiences: he felt somehow that she wouldn't believe him, or that she would laugh and think he was trying to impress her, but she listened with interest, expressing surprise and fear in the right places, and asking detailed questions about what he had done and why. He could see she was as repulsed as he was by the Hunters of Men, and when he spoke of the Enclave, her face grew long and serious.

"You were very lucky," she told him. "I've heard from the caravaners how the Enclave treats ghouls. It could have been really bad."

"I know," Gob said, heartfelt. He went on to tell her about his experience with the behemoth, and saw a new respect enter her eyes as he described how he had gotten past it.

"Those things can easily overwhelm even large groups of people," she said. "Getting past it all by yourself as you did was quite an accomplishment."

"it's one I can live a long time without repeating," he said fervently. "Besides, most of it was luck. And the high rads—I knew that whatever that thing did to me short of cutting off my head, I'd almost certainly heal from it immediately." He frowned. "It's strange—I thought I wanted an adventure, hell, that's why I set out from Underworld in the first place, but….If that's an adventure, I don't think I want any more adventures for a while," he concluded at last.

Nova nodded and favored him with a smile. "I don't want you to go on any more adventures for a while either," she told him.

Gob shifted awkwardly in his chair. Again, there was a moment of silence.

"I missed you while you were gone," she said quietly.

He bit his lip and looked down, unsure of what to say. There was something in the focused, concentrated way Nova was looking at him that made it hard to meet her eyes.

"I've been thinking," she began.

Gob stared at the rusted metal plates of the rickety landing. He clenched his hands on the arms of the chair.

"About what you said a while back," Nova continued. "About being willing to wait for me. And, well…."

He said nothing; he was afraid to speak. His hands were so tight on the arms of the chair that he could feel his pulse in his knuckles. The remains of his skin were tingling. Beside him, he heard Nova sigh.

"You know," her words came to him, "appearance isn't everything. Looks don't last forever. Mine certainly aren't going to. When it comes to what makes a relationship work, other things are more important. Things like kindness…caring…respect…And when you look at it that way—"

Gob didn't dare move. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"A girl would have to be crazy to let a guy like you go."

She reached out and put her hand over his own. Now his eyes jerked toward her. "What—" He could barely breathe. "Wh—What are you saying?"

"I'm saying, if you still want to, I'm willing to give it a try. If you still want me, you've got me, Gob. But first I have to tell you that—"

"You—You mean it?" Gob stammered. "You mean you—you really want to be with me?"

"If you still want to," she said, nodding. "But I need to warn you that I—"

"No. No. It doesn't matter," he burst out. He seized her hand in both of his, gripping so hard he could almost feel the bones in her fingers. His heart was leaping in his chest. "There's nothing you could possibly say that could make a difference. I—God, Nova, I—I'll want you no matter what. Forever, if that's what you want. Is—is that what you want?" he ventured.

Nova studied him. "It is," she affirmed. "Forever."

A rush of euphoria filled Gob. He felt as if he were floating. He felt as if none of this could be real, as if he'd somehow stumbled into an alternate universe where all his dreams had come true. Then a thought occurred to him, one that made him swallow. "But—but Nova, you know that—" He drew an unsteady breath. "You know that ghouls can't have children," he finished in a rush. "If you—"

Nova's mouth twisted into an edged smile. "Funny you should mention that," she said, and rested one hand on her stomach.

Gob's heart stopped. Time seemed to pause around him, as clear and fragile as crystal. He could see dust motes drifting in beams of light, the morning sun glittering off a fresh scrape in the rail; flakes of rust peeling off the wall of Moriarty's saloon. Nova was luminous and pale in the bright sunshine.

"You're—you're pregnant?" he whispered at last.

She closed her eyes, looking suddenly older, and nodded. "That's what I was trying to tell you," she said in a low voice. "Doc Church just confirmed it yesterday. And I need to tell you right now," she said, opening her eyes and looking directly at him. "I am keeping this baby. If you don't want to deal with raising a kid, then I will understand. I would never try to force you to stay. But I will not give up my child."

Gob was shaking his head even before she had finished speaking. His heart felt full to bursting. "Nova, this doesn't change anything. I—My God, I—" His eyes were stinging, and he dashed at them with the back of his hand. "I never thought I'd actually have a chance to be a father." His arms ached to embrace her, but he didn't quite dare; he settled for squeezing her hand.

Nova regarded him with patent skepticism. "You're sure? Even though you'd be helping to raise another man's kid?" she asked bluntly.

"That's not the way it works among ghouls. As far as I'm concerned, any child of yours is my child too. I mean that," he said, and squeezed her hand again.

Nova studied him for a moment more; he could tell she was still somewhat dubious. It's almost as if she's thinking, "We'll see." Gob silently vowed to prove to her that he had meant what he said. "Thank you, Gob," she said at last. Then her face darkened. "It's a damn good thing Samantha shot Moriarty when she did. He would not have wanted me to keep this baby."

"He couldn't stop you—"

"He could fire me, and then I'd really be in trouble." Her jaw set and she stared grimly out over the rail. Gob shifted uneasily, and stroked her hand.

"Well, he's gone," he offered. "Let's forget about him, okay? I know I'm trying to," he added, feeling his own jaw tighten. After a long, frozen moment, the stony expression drained from Nova's face, and she put her hand over his with a small smile. Again, there was silence for a time.

At length, Gob drew a breath. "Nova, there's one thing I need to ask you," he began. "What—what the answer is won't change anything," he rushed to reassure her as she turned to look at him. "I give you my word. But just for myself, I need to know—" He paused, gathering his courage, then met her eyes squarely. "Is the only reason you changed your mind because of the baby?"

Nova lowered her eyes for a moment, obviously considering the question, then ran one hand through her hair. "I'm not going to lie to you, Gob," she told him. "The baby is a big part of it. But it might not be for the reasons you think."

Gob shifted in his chair. "Go on."

"When I first realized I might be pregnant, everything seemed to change overnight. My priorities got reordered in a big hurry. I began to realize that a lot of things I had thought were important really weren't, at all. I—" She sighed. "I don't know if I can explain it well. It's almost as if my life were struck by one of the pre-war bombs—everything got blown up in the air and all the pieces got tangled together somehow. I'm still not done sorting everything out," she confessed with a shrug. "But one thing it made me realize…."

She trailed off, and turned frankly to face him. "You know, ever since the talk we had, the promise I gave you kept coming back to me? It just kept drifting through my mind at odd moments during the day. Almost like—" She paused, groping for words. "It's almost like a door was nudged open in my mind that had been closed before. Well, the bomb blew that door right off its hinges. And one of the things that it made me realize—" She stopped here and gave him a slow, gentle smile. "I can't imagine raising a child with anyone but you."

Gob was silent. He felt his eyes stinging again, and did his best to blink back the tears.

"That's what I've got, Gob," Nova continued. "If that's not enough for you—"

"No," he said hoarsely. "No, no, no. It's more than enough. More than I had hoped. And, Nova—" He paused, swallowing hard.

She looked at him. "Yes?"

He fumbled, searching for the right words. "What I said earlier—If you—" He drew a breath, his chest tight with emotion. "If you ever decide you want more kids," he rushed out. "What I said earlier, I meant. Any child of yours, I'll—I'll raise as my own, and I won't ask any questions. I mean it."

Nova regarded him expressionlessly for a long moment. Gob bit his lip; he couldn't tell if she were amused or offended. "Well, we'll talk about that if it happens," she said levelly, then smiled again. "It's entirely possible that one may be enough."

A transcendent happiness filled him. So many wonderful, impossible things were all happening so fast, he could scarcely believe it: he was free, Moriarty was gone forever, Nova had said she wanted him, and—most unbelievable of all—he was actually going to be a father. His mind could scarcely take it all in. He wondered for a moment if he had died out there after all—if the behemoth had actually gotten him, and this was heaven.

"Let's get married," Gob said suddenly, turning toward her. "Right now."

Nova pulled her hand away and turned that same skeptical gaze on him. "Gob," she said patiently, "I didn't say anything about getting married. To be honest, I don't expect it."

"You—you don't want to marry me?"

"I'm willing to marry you, Gob," Nova said, "but come on." She raised one brow. "Are you sure you want a whore for your wife?"

"No, I don't. I want you. Before—well, before you change your mind about being with me," he mumbled.

Nova tilted her head. The arch to her brow deepened. "How, Gob? Who is there even to marry us now?"

"Confessor Cromwell," Gob replied, gesturing down to the center of the town. Already the rising, falling intonations of the head of the Church of the Atom could be heard in the clear morning air. "I bet he could, if we asked him. We could have Samantha and Sheriff Simms to witness. Please, Nova?"

Nova studied him for a long moment. Gob watched, hanging on every flickering change in her face, hardly daring to hope. At last, she sighed.

"If it's that important to you, Gob—and if you're sure you don't mind—then all right. I'll marry you."

[*]

So they stood before Confessor Cromwell to be married.

The words he read hadn't changed much in two hundred years. Sheriff Simms, caught as he started out of his house to embark on his daily rounds, stood for Gob, and Samantha was at Nova's shoulder, with Charon behind her and Dogmeat sitting at her side. Samantha was beaming throughout the ceremony; Charon's flat expression gave no sign, but there was a strange flicker in his eyes as Gob took his place beside Nova. Apart from those three (or four), the only other person in the dim and dusty interior of the Church of Atom that morning was Harden, Sheriff Simms's son, who folded his arms on the back of a pew and watched, entranced. It was the first wedding that had been performed in town in years. Gob momentarily panicked when he realized he had no ring, but Samantha was able to produce one that she had scrounged from somewhere, and Simms quickly dashed to Moira's shop and brought back another. Gob felt as light and buoyant as a feather, as if his feet were barely touching the ground; it was even better than the high rads of Vault 87. He kept stealing glances at Nova throughout the short ceremony. There was no such wild happiness on her face; she seemed calm, perhaps a little tired. It was all right though. Gob promised himself that he would love her enough for both of them.

At last it was done. The walk back was a silent one; Gob was so full of emotion that he felt he would burst, but his clumsy tongue somehow couldn't find the words to express it, so he said nothing. Inside the cool darkness of the saloon, Gob went to his usual place behind the bar, preparing to start the day, only to see Nova locking the door behind them.

"What are you doing?"

She turned to regard him. "It's our wedding day," she said calmly. "I think we can close the bar for this one day, don't you?"

"But what are we—" Then Gob fell silent as a slow, arch smile curled Nova's mouth. Her eyes were watchful and grave.

"What do you think?"

Gob's heart skipped a beat. She can't—she doesn't— "N-Nova, you," he fumbled. "You d-don't have to—I-I mean, if you can't, I'll understand—"

Nova gave him a look, then headed for the stairs. She halted with one foot on the bottom step, and looked back over her shoulder at him. "Well, you'd better come on," she said. "A gentleman doesn't keep a lady waiting, after all."

Helplessly, Gob followed her. He was trembling, and his heart was pounding in his chest. He'd wanted this for so long…. She can't mean it, he repeated to himself as he climbed the stairs after her. Not with a ghoul. She's going to change her mind, she doesn't really know—

Inside the room that Nova had shared with her clients, Gob tried again. "Nova, you—I mean it. You don't have to do this. I know that I—"

Nova laid a finger against his lips. "Shhh," she whispered, and pulled him to her.

Gob was not blind, and he was not stupid. During what followed, Nova did not try to pretend that she was wildly attracted to him, and for that, he was somehow grateful; there was no way he would not have seen through such a pretense, and It would have hurt worse than if she had called him repulsive to his face. Instead, she simply focused on showing him how to please her, and on giving him pleasure in return. He could tell that she was doing it at least partly to prove to herself that she could, but after a while it ceased to matter. When it was over and they lay in each other's arms, he murmured, heartfelt, "Thank you, Nova. For—all of it."

He felt Nova's fingertips brush his peeling forehead. "Think nothing of it."

"No. I mean it. I...I know I'm--not much," he confessed. "And that was the—well, I-I hadn't ever," he stammered.

"I know. It's okay." He felt her chuckle a bit. "Would you believe that that was one of the best experiences I've had?"

Gob shifted a bit and turned his face away. "Please don't do that, Nova," he said quietly.

"Don't do what?"

He swallowed. "Don't."

The springs creaked as Nova stirred against him, and she touched his forehead again. "Well, it's sort of true. Okay, you needed me to show you what to do, but you know what, Gob?" She pushed away from him a little and looked him straight in the eyes. "You were with me. When you touched me, you were touching me, not just using me as a stand-in for whatever you had going on in your head at the moment. I could—" She reached out and stroked his face. Her expression softened. "I could feel how much you cared in the way you touched me. And trust me when I say that's not something I've experienced that often, to say the least."

She might have just been feeding him words to soothe him and make him feel better, but right then, Gob decided he didn't care. He was going to believe her. His arms tightened around her as if he feared she would slip away from him somehow. His gray, flaking, patchy skin looked unreal next to her smooth white perfection. There was silence for a while as the two of them lay next to each other. At last, he gave a small laugh.

"What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking that if this whole thing were a story, no one would ever believe it. I barely believe it myself," he confessed. "Me—Gob. Facing down Raiders and Hunters, the Enclave, a super-mutant behemoth—and now this." He looked at her, still not quite able to believe she was there. "It's like something out of a dream—a fairy tale, maybe."

Nova chuckled again. "You mean like the ones Billy Creel tells Maggie?"

"Something like that," he said, shaking his head. "What would they call it, anyway?" he continued. "Beauty and the Beast? The Ghoul Gets the Girl?"

"I don't know what they'd call it," Nova murmured, "but I know how it ends."

"Ends?" Gob swallowed a sudden chill. "Wh-what do you mean, ends?"

Nova stroked his shoulder reassuringly. "The ending. Don't you know how all fairy tales end?" She looked at him and smiled.

And they lived happily ever after.