A/N: Just to get the details out of the way... With the exception of some of the first chapter, this will take place during and after the quest Trouble On The Homefront, and will take place before the Lone Wanderer goes to Vault 87. And as a side note, despite the copious references to West Side Story this fic will contain little to no romance. If there's any at all, it'll be more background stuff.
Enjoy, and concrit and comments are very, very welcome.
Chapter One – Prologue
They always hated each other. But they never really considered each other enemies until an incident that occurred when Butch was eight. It was, in a weird way, the same day the Tunnel Snakes started, even if they didn't actually officially come up with the gang and name until two years later.
"I don't know about this, Butch. We could get in a lotta trouble. The Overseer will get mad at us," Paul whispered.
"So what? The Overseer is stupid. What's he gonna do?" Butch retorted. "Don't be a baby, Paulie."
"Yeah, Paulie. Don't be a wuss," Wally taunted. Paul clammed his mouth shut, and Butch went back to picking the lock on the door. Even at that young age, he was pretty good at it and not afraid of bragging. After a lot of poking and a lot of swearing (although being an eight-year-old, the worst swearing he could think of was 'damn') the door slid open, and the three boys slipped through.
"Piece of cake," Butch bragged. "Overseer can't even keep the locks working, what's he gonna do to us?"
"Nothing, that's what," Wally agreed. Paul looked nervous, and didn't reply. He just eyed the camera in the corner nervously. The camera wasn't actually working. No-one went in that section of the Vaults. Butch grinned to himself. No-one except them. Everyone else in this stupid Vault was too wimpy to go against the Overseer at all.
"Come on, let's have a look around. There's gotta be some reason they keep this door locked up."
At first, it was kind of a disappointment. Everything was a little dusty, but otherwise there was nothing interesting. Until they came to another door. This one wasn't locked. When they pushed it open, there was a bunch of boxes inside. They were coated in such thick dust that Butch couldn't read the labels on them.
Then they heard voices behind them.
"I saw them go in, I saw them. They was sneaking."
"I don't want to go in, Dad says no-one is allowed in there. We'll get in trouble. Just let Butch and his stupid friends get in trouble, don't drag us both into it!"
Butch rolled his eyes. He knew those voices. Lee and Amata. The doc's little smart mouth and the Overseer's stuck-up princess. Both of them annoyed Butch. Lee was always trying to follow them around and join in what they were doing, and Amata always ran off to tell her daddy whenever they were doing something against the rules.
Butch heard them enter the room proper, and gave them a glance. Lee was clinging onto a teddy bear and watching them curiously. Amata looked nervous, and was still nagging Lee incessantly about it.
"Lee, we really shouldn't be in here. You know how my dad gets..."
"He ain't watching. I just wanna have a look." Lee smiled and put her hands behind her back. "Hi. What're you guys doing?"
"What's it look like we're doing, dweeb?" Wally said. "Get lost."
"Yeah. Get lost," Butch agreed, turning back to the boxes. He wiped dust off one of them, opened it to find a bunch of old holotapes with pre-war movies on them. He squinted at the labels. "...This label says 'West Side Story' on it. The hell does that mean?" He put the tape down next to him and glanced back at Lee, who had basically ignored their insults. "I said get lost, stupid."
"Don't want to get lost. I want to see."
"Lee, we're gonna get in trouble," Amata whispered, looking around. "Dad has cameras everywhere!"
"Run off to your father and tell on us, then. Daddy's girl," Wally mocked. "Daddy's girl, daddy's girl." Butch laughed along with him, although Paul stayed quiet. Of course he did. Wuss.
"Shut up, Wally. Or I'll give you cooties!" Lee insisted.
"Cooties don't exist, stupid."
"Yeah, they do. Dad told me, he told us and he would know because he's a doctor. Right, Amata?"
"Yes, they'll make your toes fall off and you'll go bald."
"And then they will turn into radroaches."
"It would probably make them even less gross!" Amata added, and the two girls both started giggling.
"That don't make any sense," Butch muttered, still fiddling with the tape. As he pulled the last part off, Amata looked behind them nervously.
"I think I heard someone. They're going to catch us!"
"Okay, you can go keep a watch. That way you won't get in trouble!" Lee suggested. "I'll be there in a minute." Amata nodded and ran out, down the halls. At that moment, Butch opened the box and pulled out the contents. His eyes brightened.
"Guys, check this out." He pulled out a leather jacket. It was plain and smelt like mothballs, but it was in great condition. Looked a hell of a lot better than the jumpsuits everyone else wore.
"That is... kind of cool," Paul admitted.
"Yeah, that's a lot better than these dumb jumpsuits," Wally said. Butch rifled through the box. There were at least six jackets in there, all identical. He pulled two of them out, tossed one each to Wally and Paul.
"With these, we'll be the most awesomest kids in the Vault. Come on, let's cheese it before the Overseer shows up." Butch grabbed a jacket for himself, before closing it and sliding the box back into the pile. Wally and Paul quickly ran, before anyone turned up. Butch went to follow, but he noticed Lee approaching the box. "What d'you think you're doing?"
"I want a jacket. They look cool," she said. "You're not using the others. That means I can have one."
"Nuh! You can't, they're only for cool, tough guys." Butch slipped on the leather jacket and shoved the holotape inside it. "They're not weak little girls who still carry around teddy bears!" He grabbed Lee's teddy bear out of her hand. "Hah!"
"Give it back!"
Butch ran off, laughing. He heard Lee's footsteps behind him and her yelling at him. Butch glanced back, stuck his tongue out. Unfortunately, that was the moment a guard walked in his way, and Butch ran smack into him. It was Officer Gomez.
"What are you running from, Butch? You been causing trouble again?" Gomez asked sternly, gripping him by the collar of his new leather jacket. "...Where'd you get the jacket?"
"He stole my teddy bear!" Lee whined. She glared at him, and then added "They was sneaking around in the forbidden places."
Butch glared venomously back at Lee. "You... blabbermouth!" Then, not moving his eyes from her, he angrily grasped the head of her teddy bear and tore it off.
There was a moment of silence, when she gaped at her ruined toy. Tears started forming in her eyes. Butch had never seen her cry before. He was a little bit surprised by it, although he also felt glee that he'd hurt her like that. That glee wore off when she jumped at him and tackled him to the ground.
"Jerkface!" she screamed, before punching him in the nose. That was all she could manage before Gomez pulled her off him.
"That's enough! I don't know what's gotten into your kids, but no fighting!" Gomez gripped Lee firmly by her collar to stop her from attacking again. "Lee, no violence. And Butch, that was a nasty thing to do."
Butch didn't listen to the ensuing lecture, or really pay attention as he was dragged to Lee's dad to see if his nose was broken. It wasn't, but it was bleeding a lot. As Lee's dad checked his nose, he could see Lee wandering around in the office, holding her ruined teddy bear and sniffling. Butch didn't feel at all sorry for it.
At least it had done one good thing. The punching had distracted Officer Gomez from the fact that Butch was carrying around a leather jacket and holotape. Butch managed to make it back to his room with them.
Regardless, from that day on Butch and Lee were enemies.
Butch couldn't actually see what was on the holotape until he was ten and he received his Pip-Boy. His birthday was nothing much. His mother was so drunk that day that she probably hadn't even remembered. She looked a little confused when she she sobered up enough to realise he was wearing a Pip-Boy. All that happened out of the ordinary on his birthday was that Old Lady Palmer baked him a sweet roll and Beatrice read him a really depressing poem. Sad that an old lady and a crazy woman would remember his birthday and his mother wouldn't.
The clearest part of that day was finally digging up the holotape and loading it into his Pip-Boy, to see what was on it. He remembered watching it until the tape screwed up about halfway through, cutting out in the middle of a knife-fight. Butch was fascinated by the movie, and he realised why the Overseer had put it with the rest of the stuff no-one used instead of in the classroom with the other pre-war holotapes.
There was gangs in it. Musical gangs, sure, but still gangs. Fighting and taking control of the streets. There was also some romance in it, but Butch tended to skip over those parts. Yuck. It was the gangs Butch was fascinated with. The Overseer probably thought the tape was a bad influence. And he was probably right to think it, because immediately ideas started forming in Butch's head.
He could have cried in frustration when the tape messed up during the knife fight. He wanted to see who won, dammit. But he still kept the good half of the tape on his Pip-Boy, kept it there for years until he'd memorized practically every minute of it.
It was that tape that inspired him to start his own gang. The Tunnel Snakes. He sowed the snakes onto the back himself. He was pretty good with sowing and stuff, although it was embarrassing to admit it. Still, there was little to do. What else was he supposed to do besides work on his needlepoint? It distracted him from hunger on the days when his mother drank away the rations.
In any case, the Tunnel Snakes totally rocked. No-one would stand in their way. They did eventually attract the attention of the Overseer, but he let them off on the condition that they occasionally help him harass those that the Overseer could not be seen messing around with. Who knew he had his hands in the dirt? Not that Butch was exactly surprised that he was even more of a douchebag than what was obvious.
Yeah, the Tunnel Snakes could kick anyone's ass. And that included Lee, in a physical sense. She was just a girl, and when it came to fistfights Lee lost nine times out of ten. No-one could beat Butch at good old fisticuffs. But that didn't matter a lot of the time, because Lee was just too good at fucking up his shit with words.
Like the day of the G.O.A.T.
"Check it out. It's the Overseer's stuck-up little princess," Wally muttered, nudging Butch. They were lounging around outside the classroom before the test. Of course, they were supposed to get there as soon as possible. But Tunnel Snakes were always fashionably late. No-one told them when to be on time. Butch looked sideways at Wally's nudge. Amata was walking towards them, looking nervous. It could have just been because of the G.O.A.T, but Butch liked to think that it was because of the Tunnel Snakes.
Butch stuck out an arm to stop her from moving past them. "Hey, Amata. How's it going, daddy's girl?" He went back to leaning against the wall, but Wally and Paul moved so Amata still couldn't get past. Paul did so with a trace of reluctance. He was never as into bullying people as Butch and Wally.
Amata glared at Butch with a stare so cold that it could have turned him into an icicle, were he not so awesome.
"Get out of my way, you stupid Tunnel Snakes."
"Don't be like that, girl. I could show you a real Tunnel Snake," Butch said, grinning and waggling his eyebrows. "What do you say?"
"Not if you were the last man in this Vault, Butch. ...Just the thought makes me want to gag," Amata snapped. Butch grinned wider before clutching his chest.
"Oh, my heart's been broken. What? Am I not good enough, your majesty?"
"You wouldn't be good enough for a garbage burner! Which is probably what you're gonna get on the G.O.A.T."
Butch frowned a little. That wasn't true. He had to have a better fortune out there than being a garbage burner. ...Hell, he was already something better. He was a Tunnel Snake! Screw the G.O.A.T. And screw Amata, too. There was only one person Butch as much as her.
"Hey, what's up?"
Speak of the devil.
"Keep moving, smart mouth. This ain't your concern," Butch snapped. Lee just tugged down the brim of her baseball cap and smiled at him. She usually did. It was rare to see Lee looking anything other than cheerful. Some people in the Vault got depressed as they got older. Lee went the complete opposite way. Dumbass was absolutely thrilled to be locked in the Vaults, for some reason.
"Just asked what was up, Butch. You picking on Amata, again? Ain't cool."
"It's got nothing to do with you, now get lost before I have to teach you a lesson."
Even as Butch said that, he could just feel it coming. The words that would somehow screw things up. Lee just had this way of being some kind of word ninja. Lee blinked at him, then walked slowly around them to stand between Paul and Wally before clapping them both on the back. Wally quickly shrugged her off, looking disgusted, while Paul looked confused.
"Paul, why you doing this?" she asked. Paul still looked puzzled. He always was a bit slow.
"Butch said that this bitch had to be taught a lesson," he said unsteadily. Lee smiled wider.
"Always what Butch says. Butch said, Butch said... Guess he's the boss." She winked at Wally. "You guys are so whipped."
And there it was.
"We ain't fucking whipped, we can walk away any time we feel like it," Wally insisted. "Right, Paul? Come on, let's get outta here."
"Uh... Okay," Paul muttered. He followed Wally towards the classroom.
"What? Come on, guys, she's just fucking ninjaing you with her stupid... Gah!" Butch yelled. Lee tugged her baseball cap down again before turning to Amata.
"You're welcome," she grinned. Amata rolled her eyes.
"You're so cocky. But thanks for getting rid of them."
"What am I, wallpaper?" Butch demanded. Lee raised an eyebrow.
"What? No way. Wallpaper has to be pretty."
"You calling me ugly?"
"Guys!" Amata said loudly, stepping in between them. "We're going to be late for the G.O.A.T." She fixed a stern stare on Lee. "Don't mess up your G.O.A.T just because Butch is an asshole."
"Okay, okay." Lee peered around Butch and smiled widely. "So... Spare classroom after the G.O.A.T? Save the fight until then?"
Butch tilted his head, before snorting. "Fine. But you ain't worth my time, so it better be quick."
"Oh, it will be."
Amata rolled her eyes, muttering something about 'stupid inevitable fistfights.'
After the G.O.A.T, Butch paced the room. He'd been psyched up to punch the hell out of Lee earlier. And right now he was looking to let out some rage. Hairdresser. Hairdresser. Motherfucking hairdresser. He wasn't a hairdresser... He was a barber, dammit! Brotch didn't know what he was talking about.
Wally hadn't shown up, he'd simply gone back to his family's quarters after the G.O.A.T. Probably still pissed at being called 'whipped.' Paul had shown up, though. He was sitting down, fiddling with the sleeve of his jacket.
"Hey, Butch. ...Why you gotta do this? You know you're gonna punch her out in a couple of shots."
"Hell yeah, I will."
"Why do you keep fighting, then? You both know how it's going to end. Seems like a waste of time."
"It's a matter of respect, Paulie. She crosses the Tunnel Snakes, she gets punched out for it. Besides." Butch cracked his knuckles menacingly. "Every great gang has gotta have an enemy to kick the crap outta."
Paulie shrugged and looked down. "If you say so."
"I do say so. Because Tunnel Snakes rule!"
"Yeah, Tunnel Snakes rule!" Paul agreed. "I was just saying..."
"Alright, let's get this over with," Lee said, entering the room. "Gotta get home, tell Dad I'm slated for garbage burner."
"Well. ...A specialised one." Lee pulled a face. "Waste management specialist. Code for 'slightly special garbage burner.' I reckon choosing all the options relating to explosions is probably what did it."
Butch laughed before grinning at her. "And you were mocking me because I'd end up in a dead-end job? Who's laughing now?"
"You're a hairdresser. I'm still laughing."
"I'm a barber, dammit!"
It was routine. They'd insult each other, fuck up each others shit and occasionally get into fist fights. They were set in that. Hell, Butch enjoyed it. Those fistfights were a hell of a way to let off some steam. And every gang had to have enemies. Like how the guy in that holotape had the other guy. She was the Bernardo to his Riff. Only she wasn't Puerto Rican... whatever that meant.
And then it had to get fucked up. He'd been so set in his hatred for that smiling bitch... And then it had happened. The radroach attack. The escape. The day that Vault 101 had officially gone to Hell.
Butch had been playing the holotape again while sitting in the main room of the DeLoria quarters. Humming along absently to the tunes. He knew them off by heart by now. Nine years and it was still the tape that fascinated him the most. Maybe he just wanted to watch some gangs that actually did stuff. He felt like the Tunnel Snakes had hit a roadblock. There was just nothing to do in the Vaults. Tunnel Snakes still ruled, but it wasn't much of an achievement to rule in a tiny box.
His mother was lying in the bedroom, drinking vodka. Occasionally she'd yell for him to turn the damn music off. Butch would turn the tape down and just listen more quietly.
And then suddenly he could barely hear the music at all, because the alarms went off. Butch looked up, as some of the lights went off. The room was plunged into semi-darkness.
"...Butch?" he heard his mother call uncertainly.
"I'm still here, Ma." Butch climbed to his feet, looking around. As he did so, a message came on over the intercom.
"Attention, this is your Overseer speaking. There had been an outbreak of radroaches. There is no need to panic. Do not leave your quarters. Anyone caught leaving their quarters will be punished. Severely." The message then began to repeat.
Butch started to break out into a cold sweat. Radroaches. He was terrified of radroaches. But it was fine. The radroaches weren't...
He heard his mother scream.
"Butchie! Radroaches! Help me! P-Please help me!" he heard her shriek. Butch pressed the button to open the door, and saw her cornered on the bed, trying to kick away the radroaches. The room was mostly dark, but Butch could see the radroaches crawling, biting, making those horrible squeaking noises...
Despite his mother's rampant neglect over the years, Butch loved her. She was the only family he had, and he honestly didn't know what he'd do without her. She was an alcoholic and often too drunk to remember she had a son, but she was his mother. And he knew he should have run in and crushed the radroaches by pure instinct.
He tried to move forward, he had to do something, he had to save Ma... But he couldn't. He couldn't. He was too scared... He just froze. He couldn't go in.
"I'll... I'll get help, Ma! I'll get help!"
"No! No, Butchie, don't leave me here!" she screamed. But Butch was already running. All he could hear was his own racing heartbeat. Fuck the Overseer, he needed to find someone! He couldn't let Ma die! There had to be someone out there, a guard or... anyone! As he fled into the halls, he saw a guard flailing around, hitting at radroaches not far away. Thank god, thank god... But as Butch ran towards him, someone else emerged and hit the guard over the head with a baseball bat, before smashing the remaining radroaches. It was dark, and Butch didn't immediately recognise them until he noticed the baseball cap that was always present on Lee's head.
Butch didn't wonder why she was outside her quarters, or why she was carrying a bag of stuff, or why she was beating up the security guards. He didn't care about all that at the moment. He just ran towards her. Of course the one available person had to be his most hated enemy. But at that moment, he had a bigger enemy. The radroaches, but more than that, the chance that he could lose his mother. His only chance was to hope, against all hope, that she didn't hate him so much as to let his mother die.
He prepared himself for begging and pleading, for promising to do anything to make it up to her, because she'd probably try to refuse... Butch wouldn't rescue her father if she asked. Why would she rescue his mother?
"You gotta help me! My mum's trapped in there with the radroaches!" Butch yelled. Lee stared at him for a moment. Then she nodded.
She ran off for the DeLoria's apartment, just like that. No convincing needed at all. She just ran. Butch was on her heels, following her back. When she stormed into the dark room, Butch had to hang back. He was still terrified. And he could hear his mother screaming. Then he heard a lot of hitting noises and a few yells, before things went quiet. Butch edged towards the door to see Lee splattered in radroach guts, kneeling beside Butch's mother. She was unconscious. ...Butch hoped it was just unconsciousness.
"She's... She's not dead, is she?" Butch normally would have been ashamed at how badly his voice was shaking. But at the moment he didn't care. At the moment, he was just scared. Lee checked her pulse, eyes closed. After a few moments, she sighed.
"It's there. She's alive."
"Oh, thank god..." A wave of relief swept through him. Butch's knees felt weak. He sat down on the couch and put his face in his hands. His hands were shaking, too. He'd been so scared...
"She's a bit hurt, but I think she just fainted. Here..." Lee rifled through her bag and pulled out a couple of Stimpaks. "In case she gets worse or is in pain. Just give her those. Keep a watch on her. You okay, Butch?" Butch looked up at her. For once, she wasn't smiling. She actually looked worried. Butch nodded.
"Yeah, I'm... Yeah. Fine."
"Good." After a few moments, she raised an eyebrow and smiled again. The smile was slightly strained, though. "Scared of radroaches? Really?"
"Yeah... So what?" Butch muttered.
"Eh. Normally I'd rib you so hard about it, but... Well, I gotta go." She slapped the Stimpaks into his hand. "Take care of your mum." She ran out the door. Butch stared down at the Stimpaks for a moment, before running out the door after her.
"Wait! Lee!" That made her come to a halt. Butch never called her by her actual name. Usually he just called her derogatory nicknames like 'smart mouth' and 'poindexter.' Or just 'bitch' when he wasn't feeling eloquent. Lee turned to face him.
...He didn't know what to say. How to thank her. He'd never thanked anyone in his life. Least of all his arch enemy. And especially not for something like saving his mother's life. After a few moments, he pulled off his jacket and threw it at her.
"Here. I know it ain't much to you. But take it."
Lee caught the jacket and sniffed at it. Then she wrinkled her nose.
"Gross. What have you been wearing as aftershave?" Nonetheless, she pulled it on. "But... Thanks." She tipped her baseball cap quickly. "...Later." She ran off.
Butch was too concerned about his mother to wonder where Lee was going. But he was sure that everything was going to be okay now.
Things were not okay. They could not be less okay. To put it bluntly, they were shit.
The next day Butch found out everything. Why everything had been in such a panic. How the radroaches had gotten in. The reason Lee had been beating up guards and running for it.
Her father had escaped. The Vault 101 doctor had run for it. He'd opened the Vault door, something that had never been done before, and he had just run for it. And Lee had followed him out.
There were so many dead bodies. And so many dying. When Butch took his mother to the clinic, just to make sure she was okay, he was stunned by the amount of people there. Masses of people hurt, some of them badly. Some of them looked on the edge of death. Some of them were dead, and everyone else was just too busy to move them. Practically the entire vault was crammed into that clinic.
Paul was there. He was lying on one of the cots they'd dragged out. He looked so sick. So pale, and with his dark skin that was definitely saying something. Once Butch had made sure his mother was settled, he hurried over to Paul.
"Paulie? What the hell happened to you?"
Paul grinned weakly at him, although he looked like he was in a huge amount of pain.
"Hey, Butch. Radroaches, they... they got me pretty badly. I'll be fine, though. I'll tough it out. That's... That's what Tunnel Snakes do, right?"
"Yeah... Yeah, that's right."
Paul closed his eyes briefly. They looked watery all of a sudden. "Mum. She... She... She didn't make it..."
Butch didn't know what to say. He'd been so concerned for his own mother, so afraid that she would die... And while he'd been lucky, Paul hadn't. He knew at least a little of what Paul must be going through, but... He couldn't find the words.
"...Sorry, man." That seemed so horribly inadequate, but it was all Butch could come up with. Paul didn't respond for a little while, although tears started slipping out of his eyes. From the physical or emotion pain, or a mixture of both, Butch didn't know.
"There's just... Too much happened. I mean... Mum, she wasn't the only one... Wally's brother, too. According to the Overseer... Lee shot him. Killed him."
Butch wouldn't have believed that if it hadn't been Paul who told him. He still didn't half believe it. Lee? Shooting someone? She was always using words to fight her battles, or her fists at best. The idea of her shooting someone was insane.
"And there were so many others... Grandma Taylor, Jonas, the Holdens, Christine's mother and little sister... Practically half the Vault died..." Paul shook his head. "It's... It's insane, man... Crazy..." He tried to sit up, but ended up hissing in pain. "Urgh..."
Butch pushed him gently back onto the cot. "Hey, don't move. Don't want to hurt yourself more, buddy. Right?"
"Right." Paul closed his eyes. "Man... I'm tired."
"I'll be here. Have a nap. I'll wake you if anything important happens."
A day went past.
The casualties just piled up more every hour. People kept giving into their injuries. Others kept crowding into the clinic, despite the fact that there was no proper medical attention available. There had only been two doctors in Vault 101, and both were gone now. It was absolute insanity. There had been radroach outbreaks before, but nothing like this.
The Overseer eventually turned up in the clinic. He was one of the few who wasn't hurt at all. He was followed by Amata, who looked like she hadn't slept. Her eyes were rimmed red, one of them was bruised and her lip was split. She looked just as battered as everyone else, maybe even more. Not even the Overseer's daughter was immune to what was happened. Although Butch had to wonder... How had she gotten a black eye from radroaches?
People looked to the Overseer for advice. Hoping that the all-powerful Overseer would be able to make all their problems go away. But the stuff he said. It was just blaming. Directing the blame at Lee and her father. He made it sound like there was solutions... But there weren't any in what he said. Just blaming.
Once Butch's mother was definitely okay (she had gotten off easy compared to many others) Butch stuck by Paul's side. That's what Tunnel Snakes did. They stuck together, because they were like brothers. ...Although he didn't know where Wally was, he hadn't shown up in the clinic. Butch could understand, he guessed... Wally had just lost his brother, after all. Had Lee really shot him? ...Maybe he'd gotten in the way. It wasn't a secret that Steve Mack was a little unstable. Still...
The radroaches, the deaths... Were Lee and her father really to blame?
Another day went past. Paul was getting worse by the hour. By the end of that second day, he was at the edge of death and only getting worse. And there was nothing Butch could do about it. Only sit there and watch him get worse.
"Why'd this have to happen? Not just..." He nodded towards his injuries. "...Why'd everything have to turn out like this? Why'd... Why'd Mum have to die? Why did it have to come to this?"
"...I don't know, man. I don't know."
Paul closed his eyes. "Guess... Even the Vaults aren't safe anymore." There was only silence for a long time, punctuated by the groans and crying of the other vault residents crowded into the clinic. Butch stared at the ground. He felt cold. He wasn't used to walking around without his jacket. A jacket he'd never see again.
"There you are."
Butch turned to face Wally. "Here I am. ...Where the hell you been?"
"Where have I been? I'll tell you where I haven't been. Sitting in here, moping about people we can't help."
"Hey." Butch glared at him. "Don't talk about Paul that way. Tunnel Snakes have to look out for each other."
"Tunnel Snakes?" Wally stared at him like he was mad. "You still going on about gangs and snakes after all this? You fucking insane? What good do gangs do when we can't stand up to fucking radroaches? You think gangs are going to help you when the next outbreak happens?"
"I don't care if it's gonna help me or not!" Butch stood up, facing Wally. "...You're not wearing your jacket."
"Neither are you."
"Mine is in... in good hands." At least, Butch hoped it was. He wasn't so sure anymore. "I don't think I can say the same for you."
"...I'm done with the Tunnel Snakes. I'm done with you. I'm done with Paul. I'm gonna focus on what is useful. On what has a chance of surviving past tomorrow. You keep this bullshit up, you'll die in the next outbreak. And we both know Paul doesn't stand a chance without a doctor."
"Don't talk about him like he's not here!"
"He might as well not be. He ain't gonna last." Wally stepped back. "I'm done, alright? Done with your stupid gang." He quickly glanced down at Paulie. "...Sorry, Paulie." He turned around and left. Butch stood there for a moment before kicking his chair over.
"Calm down, Butch."
"Calm down? After what that douchebag said?"
"Look." Paul looked rather lucid. He was probably out of it. He seemed too calm. "He's right about me, you know? I thought I could tough it out, but... It's a lot harder than I thought..."
"Don't listen to him, you'll be fine."
"No matter what happens, man. ...No matter what happens, I'll always be a Tunnel Snake. And I still say... that Tunnel Snakes rule." Paul stretched out a hand. "Tunnel Snakes rule."
"Yeah..." Butch clasped his hand. "Tunnel Snakes. From birth to earth."
"Womb to tomb," Paul whispered.
He shut his eyes after that. Butch sat there, still clasping his hand. Just watching him breathe. Watching his chest rise and fall...
Rise and fall...
Rise and fall...
Rise and fall... Fall... Fall...
"Paulie? Come on, buddy..."
"Come on. You're a Tunnel Snake. You're a Tunnel Snake, they don't die this easily... Come on! You can tough it out, man!"
"Come on! Don't..." Butch shut his eyes, opened them again. Hoping this was all some fucked up dream. "Don't... Don't leave me here. ...Birth to earth, womb to tomb, man. You can't leave me here, you... Paulie?"
There was no pulse. Paul felt cold.
Just like that... Butch was the only Tunnel Snake left...
It was three months after the outbreak when the Overseer finally gathered the remainder of the Vault's residents. He gathered them in the Atrium. Amata was there, too. She looked serious. The Overseer stood before them, and raised his voice.
"Your attention, residents of Vault 101." They all watched him. Some hadn't given up hope that he would somehow fix everything. Butch had. What was there left to save? Butch had his mother left, but beyond that there was nothing. Wally had ditched him, Paul had died... What now? He had never liked the Vault, but now he was starting to despise the very sight of its walls. The Overseer looked over them, and continued talking.
"We have entered a rough patch in our Vault's history. The recent outbreak and the chaos that Vault 101 was thrown into had a huge impact on us. We lost many fine people. I know, more than anyone, that it will be difficult to move on from that great loss. But... We cannot let that chaotic event get in the way of restoring order to the Vault. The source of that incident... James and his child... They are both long gone from this place. They foolishly left for the uninhabitable wasteland. They will not pester us again—"
"It's not uninhabitable!"
The Overseer had never been interrupted during one of his speeches before. And Butch had never expected that interruption to come from Amata, the stuck-up little princess. Amata stepped forward. By merely shouting three words, she had attracted the attention of the crowd.
"Amata, how dare you interrupt me!" the Overseer snapped. "Have you not learned your lesson from the last time you disobeyed me?"
"Everyone! What my father says is a bunch of lies! Lee never caused that accident, and her father didn't either. And the radroaches would never have made it so far if our security had been chasing them down instead of beating innocent people to death!"
"They did no such thing!" the Overseer protested.
"Jonas didn't die because of radroaches! The Holdens did not shoot themselves full of bullets! And you, Dad... You even ordered Mack to attack me for information on where Lee went! ...How far would you have gone to keep everyone inside this Vault? If you'll do that to your own daughter, how is it any safer for the rest of the people you're supposed to protect?"
"I did what I had to. The world out there is uninhabitable."
"You're wrong! I've seen your files! There's a whole world out there! With a sun and sky and living people!"
Butch watched Amata shout at the Overseer. He had never properly listened to her before, but now he was completely and totally absorbed in what she was saying.
There was something out there. There was really something outside the Vaults. Something more than the twenty or so rooms and the same hundred people he'd been stuck around his entire life. Butch had never really thought about what was outside that door. But now that the possibility of something more than this vault hell had appeared... Now he wanted to know more. Hell, more than that. He wanted to see it. Go out there. All it took was a few words from Amata to make him want to go out there.
Butch wasn't the only one. Especially among the younger vault dwellers, their expressions clearly said that they were thinking along the same lines as Butch.
"Ignore my daughter, she is merely trying to stir up dissent among you!" the Overseer insisted. Then another voice shouted out from the crowd.
"That's a lie, Alphonse, and you know it!" It was Old Lady Palmer. "Why do you insist on keeping it a secret? This Vault has been open before!"
"And my grandson did not die from the radroaches! I want the truth!" she yelled. "You can't keep hiding the truth from your people, Overseer!"
"Yeah, fuck that!" Butch yelled. "Where were you and your guards when the radroaches were attacking? Where were you when my mum was attacked? Where were you when they attacked Paul? What the hell were you doing?"
"All of you! Stop shouting!"
But the Overseer could not stop them. More people were shouting out accusations and complaints. The room seemed to have divided into two. Many of the older residents were shouting out things that supported the Overseer. Most of the younger ones were supporting what Amata was saying. There was some mix-up... Old Lady Palmer and Mr. Brotch were on Amata's side, while Wally had clearly sided with the Overseer. The screaming was so loud that Butch could barely hear himself think, even though he was shouting as well.
"Enough!" the Overseer roared.
"Quiet!" Amata shouted.
The room finally quieted. And then Amata spoke.
"Dad. ...I think we should open the Vaults. You can't keep us shut in here forever. We'll never survive that way."
"We'll never survive out there! Do you know why the Vault door is shut?" The Overseer stared down his daughter. "It's too dangerous out there. The Vaults are safe and secure. The people we sent out there to scout... They all died. It's too dangerous."
"We can't stay here!"
"We can! We will! We must!"
The shouting began again.
"Open it, you old geezer!" Butch roared.
"Keep out of this, hooligan!"
"Alright!" Amata shouted. "Quiet!" Once things quieted down again, she said very quietly, "Dad, I won't take that decision lying down. I've stayed quiet with all the bad things you've done. But no more. Not after this. If I have to, I'll fight for the right to our freedom."
"Hell yeah!" Butch yelled.
"If anyone else wants to side with me, they can. But if not... I'll fight alone." Amata stepped into the crowd, pushed through and walked away, towards the clinic. As the yelling started up again, Butch pushed her way through the crowd and ran after her.
"Hey, Amata. You meant what you said in there, right?" he asked once he caught up. "That there's really something out there?"
"There is. I saw the files for myself. It's dusty and there's giant ants... And it's not the same world as it is in the old books and videos," Amata said quietly. "But it's up there. There is a whole world out there, right beyond the doorstep."
A whole new world. Somewhere to explore... Somewhere to live. Full of people. Where the Tunnel Snakes could roll again, more gloriously than ever. ...That was worth fighting for. To get out of this Vault... It was worth it.
"Amata... You're a stuck-up little bitch most of the time... But you got the right idea here. This Vault has gone to shit. If I gotta follow someone... Then it's gonna be you. I'm with you on this." Butch held out his hand. Amata eyed it warily for a moment, before clasping it in a very brief handshake.
"Hey, wait up for us!" Freddie had caught up to them, followed by Susie and Christine. Old Lady Palmer, Mr. Brotch and Beatrice were just a bit behind them, and they were followed by others. There were few of them, most had stuck with the Overseer... But there was enough. Enough to fight.
Butch could follow someone else if it meant getting out of this Vault. Even if that person was Amata.
Butch snuck back to the Deloria's quarters. Once he was there, he took something out. It was Paul's jacket. Butch had kept it after Paul's death. Butch ran his hand over it, staring down at it.
I'm the only one left. The last Tunnel Snake. It doesn't seem right.
Butch looked up. His mother had gotten his name right. She must be sober.
"Butchie, you're not seriously considering this, are you?"
"You know what I'm talking about. You're not thinking of rebelling. The Overseer will crush you. And you know it can't be good out there. That's where the radroaches come from. The outbreak was caused by James opening the Vault... the mess was his fault! You can't be considering just making the problem worse!"
"This Vault stinks, Ma. I ain't following the orders of that douchebag anymore. I'm getting out. Why you gotta insist on staying? What's so great about looking at the same rooms and same people every day of every year for the rest of our damn lives? We ain't living here, Ma. We're just surviving."
"Surviving is good enough! You'll die out there! Butchie, this is nothing but trouble. Don't go out there with them. Don't rebel. Please."
Butch stared back at his mother for a second, then pulled on Paul's Tunnel Snake jacket and popped the collar defiantly. The message was clear. He didn't need to say a word. His mother understood, from the look on her face. Butch walked past her, back towards the clinic.
So he was one of the rebels, huh? He kind of liked the sound of that. But he was still a Tunnel Snake first and foremost. And being the only one left... That wasn't right. A gang of one wasn't a gang. It was just an idiot in a leather jacket.
Butch decided to stop by Wally's room before he made his way back. Wally was in there, lying on his bed.
"What do you want, Butch?"
"You're not a Tunnel Snake anymore, right? ...I just came by to pick up the jacket."
Wally glared at him before reaching into his drawer, pulling it out. He tossed it at Butch. "Take the piece of garbage. ...You're making a mistake, though."
"Maybe I am. But at least I'm sticking with what I believe in." Butch popped his collar again. "And I believe that Tunnel Snakes rule."
Wally rolled his eyes. "And that attitude is going to get you killed. If you want to give up everything for some shitty, childish game... Go ahead. Get out, before you take me down with you."
Butch carried the extra jacket down to the clinic. He pondered what to do with it. He didn't want to be the last Tunnel Snake left in the Vault. They had to go on. He looked down at it, running his hand along the finely crafted snake on the back. Amata was the leader of the rebels, but she was no Tunnel Snake. She was too... too much of a goody-two-shoes for that. There was no way she'd want to, anyway.
Butch entered the clinic. People were setting up sleeping bags. Getting ready for a long fight. Butch looked around. Freddie was sitting on one of the chairs. ...Freddie had once asked to be a Tunnel Snake, but Butch had responded by shoving his head into a toilet. Butch looked down at the jacket, then nodded to himself before approaching Freddie.
To be a Tunnel Snake... He may have told Freddie he didn't have what being a Tunnel Snake once. But after seeing the true colours of Wally, a supposed Tunnel Snake, Butch had to revise what it really took to be a Tunnel Snake. ...And it wasn't like he could afford to have really high standards, anymore. As long as they were willing to carry on the Tunnel Snakes... That would have to be enough for now.
"Uh, Freddie. Here."
Freddie took the jacket with a sense of wonder. "A Tunnel Snake jacket? ...You're actually going to let me join? I can actually be a Tunnel Snake?"
"Yeah, man. Someone's gotta be. You feeling up to it?"
"I'll do it! Tunnel Snakes rule!" Freddie pulled on the jacket. "But man, I didn't think it'd happen in these circumstances."
Butch looked around, where the rebels were crowding in the room. To be fighting against the Overseer alongside Amata, Freddie and a few others for freedom to go to the outside? After giving his original Tunnel Snakes' jacket to the girl he hated most and instead donning the jacket of his dead friend? No, it wasn't how he expected things to turn out, either.
But what could you do? Just make the best of it. That was what Tunnel Snakes did.
It was six months after the outbreak when things started to go downhill for the rebels. For the last three months, they had done what they could to fight.
At first it started off as trying to convert other residents over to their side. They had managed with a few of them. Some were happy at the prospect of something other than the Vaults, especially those with Vault Depressive Syndrome. But that worked against them, too. The Overseer managed to convince most of the Vault that the rebels were just a bunch of depressed lunatics, and that they had 'misled his daughter.' Even after what she'd done, the Overseer was still trying to protect his daughter's reputation.
But things kept getting worse. It got harder to leave the clinic. Both sides started to get itchy for fights. It started simple. Butch had been the first to lash out. It'd been at Wally. Maybe Butch was still sore about Wally ditching the Tunnel Snakes, but Wally had just said something that rubbed him the wrong way. It hadn't been too serious, although they'd both ended up with bloody noses.
After that, however, fights became more and more common. Guards started getting involved. It got worse and worse...
People just started dropping. Jim Hawkins tried to make a run for it out the Vault door, and was shot to death while trying to open it. Chip was killed during another fight. It wasn't just the guards killing them. In one fight, Beatrice's toe got sprained. Unfortunately, their attempt at finding a doctor had led to Andy somehow being appointed, and he had tried to fix the toe by amputating her leg. It obviously hadn't ended well, and everyone else had been too busy and worried about other things to even remove her corpse from the clinic. It just lay there, a horrible reminder of how bad things were going.
The rebels were getting fewer every day. Either through death or just giving up. Some were captured, like Mr. Brotch, and locked up so they couldn't interfere. Those who were left were afraid to leave the clinic.
"We're dying out, Amata. We need to do something! We need a plan!" Susie insisted. She was accompanied by noises of agreement. Everyone looked towards Amata for plans. She had tried keeping things under control, but it had gotten out of her hands. It was a tiny group of mostly teenagers, with only their fists and a switchblade or two. Against a security force with batons and pistols. It wasn't much to work with.
And Amata knew it. She looked just as lost as the rest of them. As Susie insist she come up with a plan, Amata sat in the chair that used to belong to Lee's dad. She was sketching on a piece of paper. Potential plans and ideas were scribbled, but she always quickly discarded them.
"I don't know what to do, alright? We have nothing to fight with, and my father refuses to listen to us!"
"It's only a matter of time before he sends guards down to cut our throats," Butch muttered. "How am I supposed to fight off the security force with a fucking switchblade? We need guns. Weapons. There's gotta be something in this Vault we can use!"
"There isn't anything! We've checked the entire Vault, even the rooms that have been locked for ages! There's nothing!" Amata insisted. "All we found was old stimpaks, and they're running out."
"Then what, Amata? What do we do?" Susie asked. "We can't keep fighting like this... It's driving a wedge between us and our families, how are we supposed to convince them to open the Vault like this? They won't even speak to us, now."
"I know..." Amata gazed at the bobblehead on the desk. She poked it gloomily, watching it bob up and down. Her expression turned thoughtful. "We need outside help."
"Outside help?" Butch raised an eyebrow. "You ain't thinking that..."
"We can break into Dad's office. The door can be picked open, we did that the night she escaped... We can use the terminal to send out a radio signal. If she hears it..."
"You think she'll help? They chased her out, didn't they?" Susie said.
"I... I think she would. At any rate, it's our only chance. We need some kind of outside help. We're not doing anything on our own." Amata met Butch's eyes. "...You're good with that kind of stuff, right? Lockpicking and hacking?"
"I'm pretty awesome at it, yeah," Butch agreed. "The fuck are we waiting for?" Amata stood up.
"Okay. Guys, keep the clinic protected. I don't think the guards would attack us down here, but just in case... Butch, come on."
They tried to move as quick and quietly as possible. On the way down, they had to hide from the Overseer himself. He was talking with Stanley. They heard something about the water systems, how there had been some trouble but that they were working fine now. Butch mulled this information over, until they both reached the Overseer's office. As Butch pulled out a lockpick, he spoke up.
"Hey, Amata. You know what Stanley was saying about the water thing, yeah?"
"I was standing right next to you at the time, Butch. Of course I know," she sighed.
"I was thinking..."
"That's an accomplishment."
"Shut up! Anyway, I was thinking... Why don't we fuck around with the water? If it malfunctions, we'll all get evacuated! They'd have no choice but to let us out!"
"No, Butch! We wouldn't be able to come back if that happened."
"Man, who wants to come back?" Butch paused for a moment to look at her. "You saying you actually want to stay here?"
"The Vault is our home, Butch. I still want to live here. I just think we need to be able to go out there, too."
"Will you just pick the lock, already?"
Butch went back to picking. "What's so great about the Vault, anyway?"
"It would be safe if... if Dad wasn't..."
"Fucking insane?" As Butch said this, the door opened.
"Well... Yeah..." Amata stepped into the room, turned on the terminal. "Let's see if he's changed the password." After a moment, she sighed. "No, he hasn't. It's still my name."
"That's... a crap password."
"Makes things easier, at least. Can you access the radio signal?"
"Do Tunnel Snakes rule?"
"So, you can't?"
"'Course I can!"
It was a week after that. A week after that when she returned.
Butch crouched behind the stack of desks they had used to barricade the Vault halls. He turned his switchblade over in his hands, on guard. Because there was no way any of the others were going to fight as well as he was. And those guards were gonna do something. Freddie had just been shot at, he'd come running back only a few minutes ago saying he had to tell Amata something.
Butch had stayed at the barricade, just in case. He didn't want to stay in the clinic with the others. For one, Andy hovering around covered in blood was seriously putting him on edge. Two, he preferred to be where the action would start if the guards did attack them.
Footsteps reached his ears, coming from the opposite direction of the clinic. Butch grinned and tightened his grip on his switchblade. He knew it. He knew those guards would try something. Well, he'd take out those guards. Nobody can stand against a Tunnel Snake.
Then he thought he heard a growl. That was... weird. And then he heard whispering. He heard the footsteps get near the barricade. Butch jumped out and tackled them. But before he could register who it was, they turned around the gun they were holding and slammed him in the stomach. When Butch doubled over, they turned their gun around again and pointed it at his face. Which was when Butch noticed there was green goo bubbling in the gun just inches from his face, and he could actually feel warmth coming from it.
"...Oh crap," Butch muttered. Then he looked at the person holding a gun. He didn't even recognise her until she spoke.
"Did you just try to stab me, Butch? Not cool."
"...Smart mouth?" Butch squinted at them (the hall was a little dark, since he'd put out the lights so he could get the element of surprise). Now that he got a good look at the face, and the grin... It was Lee, alright. But she was almost unrecognisable. She had left a tiny, pale girl with short, blonde hair that was kept neat. Although it was only short because Butch had shaved her head as revenge for... Butch could no longer remember why. It'd been so long ago. ...Although he then reminded himself it had only been six months since the escape, even if it felt like years...
Now, she was sunburnt and absolutely coated in dirt. If the guards wanted to, they could find her easily from the trail of dust and dirt she had left behind her. She wasn't wearing the jumpsuit any longer, although she was still wearing his Tunnel Snakes jacket. Underneath her baseball cap, her hair was a tangled bird's nest. An absolute disgrace.
But the weirdest thing? It was the grin. Lee had always been a smiler, but at the moment? It didn't look natural. There was no joy behind that smile. It was more like she was grinning because that was simply what she was supposed to do. And even though Butch had been annoyed by her constant cheerfulness... this frozen smile was a lot worse.
"Yeah. Smart mouth is here. What's going on?"
There was a bark behind her. A dog was following her around. He growled at Butch menacingly, probably because he still had his switchblade out. Lee raised a hand.
"Easy, Dogmeat. He ain't a threat."
Butch wanted to say that he was a threat, that Tunnel Snakes are always threats. But... He wasn't sure how to react to Lee. Too much had happened since they saw each other last.
On one hand, he kind of wanted to hug her. She was his arch enemy, and even with all the fighting that had been happening it wasn't the same. He missed their fistfights, the ones when nothing serious had been on the line. Nothing but pride. He had missed her in a very warped way. And he was still grateful to her for rescuing his mother.
But there was other strong impulses. She and her father had opened the Vault. That had probably been what caused the radroach outbreak. And her father had left the Vault without a doctor. ...Even if it had been the Overseer's fault, too... They had thrown the Vault into the hell it was now. ...And that had been what caused Paul to die.
And so the first thing Butch did was cock his fist back and slug her in the face. Before he could do anything, the dog jumped forward and bit him hard on the leg.
"Dogmeat! Down, boy!" Lee yelled. She was rubbing her face where Butch had punched her, although she hadn't stumbled back or anything. Before, she would have at least done that. The dog looked at her quizzically. "Butch and me punch each other all the time, don't attack him unless I say so." The dog let go and sat down immediately, his tongue lolling out.
"Crazy mutt!" Butch hopped on one foot for a few moments before checking his leg. It wasn't too bad, but it did hurt... "Ow, ow, ow..."
"I got bandages in my bag, you wuss."
"You calling me a sissy?"
"I'm just messing with you, Butch. Dogmeat is a badass. Can't blame you for yelping." She ruffled the dog's head affectionately.
"What kind of name is Dogmeat?" Butch stopped hopping around. "But anyway... You got the radio message Amata sent you, right?"
"No, I just showed up to have tea with the Overseer. Of course I got the message!" Lee looked around him. "...So, you hanging out here alone? I thought Tunnel Snakes travel in packs. I saw Freddie wearing one of your jackets. Since when did he become a member?"
Butch crossed his arms. "Freddie's a Tunnel Snake because... he's the only guy left that would," Butch muttered, scuffing his boot against the ground. After continuing his insistence that Tunnel Snakes rule, it still felt weird to admit out loud that he and Freddie were the only ones. "Wally ditched the Snakes... asshole."
"Yeah? What about Paulie?"
Butch kept his eyes fixated on the wall for a few moments.
"Dead," he said shortly. "Radroaches got him the night you left." Anger and grief that he had tried to keep suppressed bubbled up in his gut. Every day he was reminded that Paul was gone. He wore the reminder himself, every time he looked down at his jacket or caught a glimpse of his reflection he was reminded of Paul. But he had tried not to let the grief and anger get to him... Still, did he blame Lee for it? He had to blame someone... Paul didn't die just because fate willed it or any shit like that...
Butch chanced a look at Lee. She was staring at the wall, as well. She wasn't grinning anymore, not even the creepy fake one. She blinked a few times very quickly, before rubbing at her eyes.
"...Sorry." It didn't sound like she was directing those words at Butch. Then she looked at him. "Amata is around here somewhere, isn't she? That's what Officer Gomez told me."
"What? ...Oh. Yeah, she's right this way. Come on." Butch turned around, headed towards the clinic. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lee rubbing at her eyes again.
"Hey, Amata! Someone here to see you," Butch yelled, as they entered the clinic. Amata was pacing the room, looking worried. She looked up when Butch yelled, but her eyes quickly slid over him to Lee.
"Amata!" Lee ran forward and hugged Amata tightly. "Oh, man... You're alright."
"Alright? Of course I'm alright, I'm the one that should be worrying about you!" Amata patted Lee on the back before moving out of the hug. Amata's front was now covered in dust and dirt, just like Lee. She didn't seem to notice or care. "What happened to you?"
"Oh, this is normal for the Wasteland. Trust me, it's insane out there." Lee put her hands on Amata's shoulders. "Come on, this is about you and the Vaults. What happened? There were bodies on the way in... What happened to this place?"
Butch mostly listened to the explanation of the last six months. Amata didn't need his help to explain, Tunnel Snakes weren't great with words. While Amata explained, she paced the room. Lee sat on one of the desks, chin resting on her interlaced fingers as she listened, occasionally nodding or asking questions to clarify on what Amata was telling her. Dogmeat was sniffing around the Vault with interest, and some of the rebels were fawning over him, petting him and scratching him behind the ears. A dog was a strange animal only seen in pre-war media, to them. To see one prancing the vaults made the idea of a proper life on the outside much more real.
Once Amata finished explaining, Lee stayed silent for a few moments. Then she asked, "Why do you want to leave?"
"I get the whole Overseer thing. No offence, Amata, but your dad is absolutely fucking insane."
"But why do you want to go out there?" Lee jammed a thumb in the direction of the Vault door. "I've been out there for six months, Amata. It's a shithouse. Trust me on this. It's hot and dirty and covered with mutated creatures trying to kill you. Think radroaches are bad? Wait until you see the giant radscorpions. And that's not even including the Molerats, the Yao Guai... Or the Super Mutants... And even once you get past the mutated creatures, there are Raiders and Slavers and the motherfucking Enclave..."
"We're aware that there's danger out there," Amata interrupted.
"What are you prepared for, Amata? Because if you can't even fight against a few radroaches? Then you won't be able to stand a chance out there. Maybe it's best for all of you if you stay here."
"You gotta be fucking kidding me!" Butch said loudly. "You think we're too wimpy to survive out there? You did fine, didn't you?"
"Fine?" Lee laughed hollowly. "You call this fine?" She removed the jacket, so that she was only wearing a blood-splattered singlet. The majority of her skin was covered in scars. Most of them were small, but there was some large ones. Some looked like bullet scars, others like bite marks. She tugged up one of her pant legs so they could see a mass of old burns and scarring on her leg.
"See that? Stepped on a landmine. They're everywhere, by the way." She waved her hands at some particularly nasty scars on her shoulder. "Those? Yao Guai chewed on my shoulder." Other arm, very fresh, red marks. Looked like burns. "Enclave soldiers shot me there with fucking lasers. And there are a million other scars that I can't even remember how I got. Not to mention that Moira stitched a smiley face into me... And there's that weird mutation I got from the rads, but that's a whole 'nother..." Lee waved her hands again. "My point is... I was lucky. I probably should have died a hundred times over, but I didn't. Because I was really, really lucky. You think that luck will hold out for you guys? After half the Vault died from radroach bites?"
Amata had gone quiet for the moment, but Butch wasn't giving up that easily.
"They would have been fine if we had a doctor here! And you're not the toughest person in the world, if you can survive out there then we sure as hell can! When'd you become so fucking pessimistic?"
"I'd say about the time that I discovered the world out there was shit!"
"Lee. Listen, alright?" Amata said quietly. "We don't want to leave the Vaults for good. We still want to live here. But we just want to be free to go out there. You know we can't stay here forever. We're so few in here. If we don't learn how to live out there, this Vault will die. There's too few of us. We can't last more than a few more generations, even if we stay."
"We gotta go out there! What do you think's gonna happen if we don't go out there?" Butch said angrily. "If we're dying in here like Amata says, we'll have to go eventually. We gotta learn how to survive out there, or else we're gonna die in this fucking box. Like caged animals!"
"Exactly," Amata said, nodding.
Whatever Butch had expected Lee to react with, it was probably not laughter. Lee just started giggling uncontrollably, before covering her mouth to muffle the sound.
"What's so funny?" Butch muttered.
"Sorry, it's just... Never expected to see you two agreeing on anything, much less working together. I just thought it was kinda funny." Once she got the giggles to go away, she crossed her arms. "Well, you do have a point there. So you're still gonna be here, right? Still gonna have this place as shelter?"
"Not me!" Butch declared.
"Butch is an exception. The rest of us want to live here," Amata confirmed. "Please, we can't get Dad to listen to us. Maybe you can."
"Your dad? ...I don't know if I can go in there. I might not be... be able to control myself, you know? He killed Jonas... I never got him for that."
"Lee, don't hurt him! He means well. You know what."
"He got Mack to hurt you! How is that well-meaning?"
"Please, just... Don't hurt him," Amata begged. Lee turned her head, sighed.
"...I'll try. You want me to do this now?"
"As soon as possible would be good."
"Okay. I'll try and talk him down. But only because you're so into this. And I guess I don't want you guys dying or anything. Might wanna stay here, Amata. Just... just in case. Keep Dogmeat amused, I don't want him jumping at the Overseer or anything."
Amata nodded, although she looked nervous. Lee strode out of the clinic towards the Overseer's office. Butch didn't want to be left out of the action, if anything was going down. So he followed, running after her.
"What are you planning on?" he asked.
"I haven't quite decided," she muttered. "That bastard got Jonas killed. I don't know if I'll be able to stop myself from shooting him in the face."
"I'm all for that."
"Course you are."
"So, you're not gonna do that thing where you just use words?"
"I dunno. Not everything can be fixed with words. Especially if the other side doesn't want to listen. Sometimes you gotta make them listen. And sometimes..." Lee shook her head. "Last time I tried to fix things with words... An entire tower of people got slaughtered. Fucking Roy."
"Sometimes... Sometimes words just make things worse. And sometimes, you just gotta shoot them in the face."
"That's what I say. If you replace shoot with stab. Because that's how Tunnel Snakes do it. With fangs and... knives and stuff. You're talking more like a Tunnel Snake."
"Nah. That's just a universal truth out there." Lee sighed. "I still think staying here is safer. The Capital Wasteland is no picnic. You'll probably survive longer here."
"Survive? We don't just want to survive. We want to live, girl!"
"It's not great for that, either. It's... very tiring out there." Lee rubbed her eyes. She did look incredibly exhausted. "But I get it. ...If I pass out, just poke me or shoot me in the leg until I wake up."
"Sure thing, man."
They approached the Overseer's Office. They saw him watching out the window. Then he vanished out of sight. When Butch and Lee reached the door, it was locked.
"Gimme a minute, I'll pick it," Butch said. Lee stretched out a hand to stop him.
"It's okay. I have my own key."
Lee pulled out her strange rifle and shot the door one, two, three times. The door didn't just get blasted open. It literally disintegrated into green goo.
"Holy shit!" was Butch's only remark. The look on the Overseer's face, from where he was seated behind his desk, basically said the same thing. Lee nonchalantly stepped over the pile of goo.
"Mind your step," she muttered, pointing the gun at the Overseer. The Overseer quickly got over the door and stared down the gun barrel, pulling out his pistol. Butch may have hated the old bastard, but he had to admire the fact that he was still keeping it together after his door had been blown into radioactive goo.
"So. Come crawling back to hide in the safety of the Vaults again, have you?" he said calmly. "Well, it's too late. There's nothing here for you. You're tainted."
"I'm here on Amata's behalf," Lee said, tugging down the brim of her cap. "She don't like what you're doing, old man."
"Trying to release the rebels into the Wasteland? Trying to get them all killed? Well, I won't allow it. No matter what you say, I will not endanger this Vault the same way that your father foolishly did!"
Lee pulled the trigger. Another shot. This one missed the Overseer's head by an inch. Butch actually saw his hair slightly fizzle, it was so close. The Overseer clammed up.
"You will not insult my father again," Lee growled. Butch edged back a step. Lee actually looked mad. Seriously mad. "And I think it's in your best interest to hear me out."
Turns out Lee was right. People sometimes had to be forced to listen. And a gun to the head made people very attentive.
"Alright. I'll hear you out. But I still believe—"
"Can it. I have a question for you." Lee squinted at him, still aiming her gun. "...How many families are there in this Vault?"
"Families? There's my family, which is just me and Amata... The Macks. The Kendals. The DeLorias. The Gomez family. There's... There's..."
"There's not many, is there?"
"It's hard to list off the entire population of the Vault at gunpoint," the Overseer said defensively.
"Yes, but even so. There's not much genetic variation here."
"There is enough. Numbers may have dwindled somewhat, especially with the recent crisis, but we have enough numbers to continue on for... for... a few more generations..." A thoughtful look was coming over the Overseer's face, to be replaced by horror. "My god..."
"Amata tried to tell you that. But you refused to listen. I told you. I'm just passing on what she tried to tell you."
The Overseer sighed. "...I would do it all again, given the chance." He stood up suddenly. "I see your point. We really won't survive for much longer. We're the last bastion of pure humanity, and we're doomed. ...And I am not the one to lead us out of this crisis." He strode past Lee and Butch, stepped over the radioactive goo that was once his door, and left.
"...Damn," Butch sighed. "That... was actually really easy." Lee smiled joylessly and put her gun away.
"Well, sometimes you just gotta make them listen." She stepped over the goo again. "Let's get back."
"Can't believe it took three months of fighting just to get to that." Butch followed her back towards the clinic. "You had me going there. I actually thought you were gonna shoot him for a moment there."
There was a long stretch of silence.
"...I didn't miss on purpose."
Lee twisted her hands together nervously. "I'm tired. Haven't slept in days. I really was trying to shoot him the second time. I just missed because I can't concentrate properly. ...I was trying not to shoot, but I just... when he mentioned Dad, I got so mad... God, what would Amata have done if I'd shot her dad?"
"But you didn't, so don't worry about it. What's happened has happened." Butch clapped her on the back. "Don't worry about it."
"...You're acting weird, Butch."
"I dunno, you're acting... nicer than usual."
"For now. Look, I owe you for Ma. Even though you and your dad sort of fucked up the Vault... Well, you helped open it for the rest of us. So for now... I gotta repay you. Even if I still think you're a rotten bitch."
Lee looked down, smiled a little. "Don't worry about it. Helping people is... It's just what I do now. Guess it's kinda like my job" She yawned. "Man, I'm beat. It was a long trip here. Traveled non-stop from the Citadel."
"Mmhm. And not much rest before that, after... after..." Lee faltered, then shook her head. "...I don't want to talk about it."
When they reached the clinic, the Overseer was leaving. He passed them by without comment. Inside the clinic, it was noisy. There were people cheering, slapping others on the back and laughing. Dogmeat was bounding around, barking cheerfully. People were actually happy, for the first time in ages... Butch grinned at the sight. They'd fucking won. And all it had really taken was a gun and some words the Overseer couldn't ignore.
Amata ran forward, hugged Lee again. "You did it! We're... We're free to go out there! It'll... It'll be some time before we're ready, but we can do it! Thank you so much!"
Lee looked troubled. Perhaps thinking of how close she'd been to killing Amata's father. Amata would not have been hugging and thanking her, then. "No problem," she muttered, patting Amata on the back uneasily.
"Dad just... declared me Overseer. I don't know what you said to him..."
"I just rephrased what you told me, Amata. Nothing special."
"I'm grateful. You managed to help us, and you didn't hurt anyone... This... This makes it so much harder..."
"Makes... Makes what harder?"
"People are still mad at you. At both you and your dad."
"I know..." Lee glanced at Butch, before rubbing her face where he'd punched her. "I've been told."
"You being here will... will just cause trouble for all of us. I'm sorry. You're a hero... And you have to leave."
"...Oh." That was Lee's only reaction. She stayed quiet throughout the rest of the conversation, even as Amata gave her a modified vault jumpsuit to 'remember them by.' Butch didn't know why anyone would want to remember the Vault. She only spoke again when it was time to leave. "Can I... get something from Dad's office?"
Amata told her she could. She went in there, avoided Andy and Beatrice's body, which was still lying in there after Andy's attempt at 'fixing her.' Lee took down the framed bible quote. She stood there for a few moments, staring at it, before slipping it into her bag. She also checked the safe before she left. It had an old holotape in it, which she slipped into her Pip-Boy before leaving the room. She looked between Amata and Butch for a moment, then nodded.
"Okay. Dogmeat? We're leaving." Dogmeat barked happily and pranced out with his owner.
Lee moved fast. Butch went after her, but he only caught up once Lee was at the door. She had moved Jim's body aside, away from the controls. The Vault door was sliding open when Butch caught up.
"Lee, wait up."
"...What now?" she sighed, facing away from him.
"Can I leave with you?"
"Look. You heard what Amata said. It'll take a long time before you're ready. And this is still your home, you gotta go by their rules."
"I don't care about that. I don't want to see the inside of this Vault again. I want to get out there now!"
"So what? You'll follow me? And then I'll have to take care of you while you get chased around by Molerats. Wake up, Butch!" she snapped. "Just because you're a fucking Tunnel Snake doesn't mean you're goddamn invincible! You're afraid of radroaches, for fucks sake! What lies out there... It's shit, alright? It might be the Vault's only chance of survival to go out there, but it's shit! And trust me, once you've been out there for a while... You'll give anything to come back here."
She had turned to face him while shouting, and Butch saw that there were tears trickling down her face. ...He didn't get it. He knew that being exiled by her best friend probably hurt... Kind of like when Wally ditched the Tunnel Snakes. That had stung. But exiled from the Vaults didn't seem so bad... The outside couldn't be that horrible, could it? In comparison with the hellhole the Vaults had become?
"Look, dumbass. You want to repay me? Repay me by staying here. Even if the Vault opens, keep this place as your home. You've got a choice in the matter, use it. Do that and consider us even." She walked down the steps, kept walking until she was just outside the Vault door. She looked back, eyes still streaming. She tipped her cap, just like she'd done the night she left. "...For your sake? I hope I don't see you again." She smacked the button on the controls that sat outside the door, and the Vault door slid shut with a loud grinding noise.
Butch stood there for a while, gazing at the door.
Of course, he had no intention of obeying Lee. No-one told a Tunnel Snake what to do. And she was right, he did have a choice. And he chose to leave.
Still, perhaps a week of preparation wouldn't hurt. But he'd leave soon, and he'd show her that he didn't need her help to survive out there. Molerats? Giant ants? All that stuff that Lee had talked about? The Raiders and Slavers and Enclave?
Well, fucking bring them on. Butch could take it. He'd show her.