"Hey, Kid... There something wrong?"
The Vaultie glanced up at Gob from where she had her head rested on her arms, folded on the bar top. It was unusual to see her so quiet and sullen. From the moment she first barreled into the bar she was nothing but determination, energy, and friendly hellos all around. Gob remembered thinking how peculiar she was in this, since it was so unlike anyone he had ever met. She hadn't even flinched upon seeing him. Hell, if anything she looked more intrigued. He hadn't quite been sure how to react to her, but it was plain for anyone to see that he enjoyed it every time she came around. Maybe the weight of the wasteland had finally settled in on her? Deep down, he hoped not. There was enough distress and doom and gloom. The wastes needed someone like her.
Wastes be damned, he needed -
"It's Christmas Eve...," she murmured.
"Sorry...?" Gob asked, returning from his reverie. "Christmas?"
"Yeah..," she replied, tapping the bar with a fingertip as she sat up straight once more.
"Uh...?" he rasped out, suddenly at a loss. Christmas? That was a holiday wasn't it? Honestly, he could barely remember. Holidays weren't exactly celebrated in the wastes. You were lucky if anyone remembered your birthday, much less days like Christmas. He vaguely recalled the word and its association, but not much more than that.
"We used to celebrate it every year in the Vault," the Vaultie offered, seeing his confusion. "We couldn't celebrate it like they did in the books, but we had gifts and lights and singing..."
"Sounds nice," Gob admitted, leaning on the counter now.
"I guess I'm just sad that no one out here even seems to know what day it is. It's like it doesn't even matter." She seemed genuinely disappointed and Gob felt for her. He wished he could summon up any memories he might have had about the day, if only to share with her, but none came. He felt a bitterness inside at himself as he coming up short again.
Ever since Moriarty had inconspicuously disappeared that day so many months ago, his life had become immeasurably better. No one knew for sure what had happened, but Gob could guess. He may have been a ghoul, but he certainly wasn't stupid. He saw how much the Vaultie disliked Moriarty and all the things he did. She seemed particularly ruffled when Gob was at the receiving end of his abuse. Then, one day, he was gone, and all it took was one glance in her eyes to know why. He had liked her before. Hell, he may have even admitted a bit of a crush because of her unabashed kindness. His better judgment hadn't allowed much more than that, but after that day...
She had vanished for some time after that, perhaps to lay low for awhile. Gob hadn't been sure what to do, but Nova suggested he take the saloon for his own. She took over the hotel and together that they had kept the establishment running. Sure enough, the Vaultie came back, and ever since Gob had been wracking his brain for a way to properly repay her. Nothing seemed to be good enough.
She was so self-sufficient and wonderful, and he was so useless and...well...himself. As she sat there mourning the loss of holiday tradition, he wanted nothing more to give it all to her.
"Gob...?" her voice interrupted his thoughts again. For a moment he glanced around, worried that maybe she had seen little hearts dancing about his head. For once he thanked god he had no skin to blush with.
"I was asking... Did you ever have a Christmas celebration?"
"No," he replied, honestly. "If I did I don't remember it. Sorry."
"Oh. It's okay. You just seemed like you were thinking of something, so...," she trailed off with a small shrug. She bowed her head again, a lock of deep red hair falling in her eyes.
"Well," he coughed a little, that painful shyness crawling into his gut again. "What did you do...? Maybe I'll remember something." Her face lit up at the idea and his heart swelled with warmth in his chest. He would listen to her tales day and night if it meant she would smile at him like that forever.
The day crept into night faster than Gob ever remembered. Before he knew it he was closing up the saloon and she still had stories to share. So enthusiastic and much more the Vaultie he recognized, she didn't lose his attention for a moment. Aside from Nova and the guests renting rooms they were alone in the bar. She seemed to lose track of the time and Gob didn't mind in the slightest. He was enjoying how she described her holiday escapades, how she had scrambled to find the perfect gift for her father, showing the very same resourcefulness she had even now, gifts she had gotten, decorating the Vault...anything and everything she could remember.
"...You would not believe the look on his face. It was priceless!" she said with a laugh, waving her drink about and doing her best to keep quiet for the slumbering residents. Gob's cracked lips curled into a slight smile and he gave a quiet, rumbling chuckle in response. He watched her peer into her mug for a moment wistfully. "There was this one wish that I had for the last few years but I never got it..."
"What was it?"
She fell silent and he watched a slight blush cross her cheeks as she bit her lower lip. She looked over at him where he sat next to her at the bar, deftly changing the subject. "You are so different, Gob."
His self-consciousness sat in, eyes darting to each side as he anxiously gripped his own drink on the bar. He hadn't been expecting the comment. "I am?"
"Yeah," she said warmly, patting his hand with that impossible carefree nature of hers. She genuinely just didn't care about the fact that he had no skin to touch. She didn't discretely wipe her hands on her suit when she thought he wasn't looking. Her hand just rested there. "You're a lot more laid back... Without someone breathing down your neck, you're letting yourself go. You are definitely smiling more." She grinned at him, teasingly. He ducked his head feeling the corner of his lips tug at one side. She was right.
"Easier to do when no one's hitting you," he managed, with a small shrug.
"Understandably," she agreed with a crooked smile. Her hand slipped from his to tap her mug and get the remaining liquid from the bottom.
"Can I get you more? You know there's no charge...for you," he said, sitting up straight and ready to leap from his seat if she so asked.
"No, I'm good, thank you," she replied. "I should probably go. I didn't mean to keep you up like this."
"No," he insisted right away. "It was nice." As she slipped from the bar stool he felt disappointment settle in his stomach. He wanted her to stay longer. He had hoped she might not realize the time, but it was inevitable.
"Oh!" He looked up to see her approaching the bar and hope once again flourished. Maybe she had changed her mind? He turned on the stool, arm on the bar, to face her. "You know, I had hoped that maybe I could find a gift for you, I mean, even if you don't celebrate anymore."
Gob merely blinked at her silently.
"Because, you know... You were the first person who was really nice to me when I came out of the Vault... Heck, probably the nicest in the wastelands," she fiddled with her fingers a bit.
"You're preaching to the choir, kid." He wasn't sure if he had actually said it aloud, but he knew for sure he was thinking it. Where was she going with all this?
"Anyway!" She paused to take a breath and dug around in her hip pack, producing a parcel wrapped in a a dingy handkerchief and tied with a bit of twine. "Here."
"Uh," Gob was at a loss for words again. "Geez, kid, you've already done a lot. You don't need to give me anything." He watched her shoulder droop and he suddenly felt like a complete jerk. It was apparently very important to her and here he was shooting her down. Good job, Gob. You sure now how to treat your savior. "But...but! If it's important, I'll take it!" he added. Once more, she beamed and set the gift in his rough hands.
Gob held the small package and began to unwrap it as if he was afraid it might explode in his face. He was keenly aware of how intently the Vaultie was watching him, waiting for his reaction. He hoped that he would respond properly. Gob never received gifts. People didn't give ghouls gifts. As such, the whole predicament just left him feeling dumbfounded. He unfolded the last bit of fabric and looked at the thing in his hands.
"It's a transistor radio!" She couldn't help herself in his silence. "Now you can listen to music wherever you go!" Gob turned the small portable radio over in his hands, awestruck. She had remembered how much he liked to listen to the radio, and how much he hammered on the old piece of junk at the bar trying to get good reception. She even reminded him of his freedom; his ability to leave and go wherever he wanted.
A lowly debt-buried ghoul bartender that had given her no reason at all... She had thought of him this much.
"Gob...?" she was leaning in to look at him, leaning on the bar stool in front of him. She looked concerned. Crap. Had he looked unhappy? Had he reacted poorly? "Gob, do...you like it?" He finally turned his eyes up to her, feeling something hitch in his throat. He nodded, unable to find his voice. She smiled gently and moved around the stool to stand in front of him now.
Oh, she was going to be death of him. As if the gesture was not enough, the foolish girl embraced him then. She went and wrapped her arms right around his neck without a concern in the world.
"Merry Christmas, Gob," she said quietly, and he felt as though his heart would melt away in his chest. His hand still gripping the radio, he managed to bring his arms up. Even now he felt hesitant but fought it down with all his might and hugged her back. He felt her smile, a breath escaping her lips against his neck. If only they could have stayed that way forever he could have died happy.
She pulled away from him, arms still resting on his shoulders as she looked in his eyes again.
"You gonna be okay...?" she asked gently. Her hands moved down and her thumbs brushed his cheeks. Gob had become accustomed to feeling the occasional wetness on his face, it tended to happen when your body was falling apart. He had been completely unaware of the tears. He didn't even know he could still produce them, figuring they had dried up long ago.
"What can I do?" he finally asked her and she looked puzzled, tilting her head.
"What do you mean?"
"I have to do something. I... I need to do something for you," he sputtered.
"Aw, that's okay, Gob. It's not necessary," she said, patting his shoulders. "You do things for me all the time. The discounts and the stimpaks and -"
"No," he interrupted, catching her off guard. He set the radio carefully on the bar and hung his head, elbows at his knees. "That's not enough. You know it's not. Not for all this." She looked at him, suddenly realizing just how important it was to him. For once, she felt as lost as he did and she felt terrible for causing him such turmoil and not even knowing it. Gob had always been such a sweet guy and she had always hated how beaten down he was. She loved how his spirit seemed to flourish with Moriarty gone. But he still had a bad habit of beating himself up sometimes, a habit she had hoped to break in the near future. He had spent years feeling like he couldn't do anything right so it only made sense that it would take just as much time to show him otherwise. Perhaps she knew the perfect way to start.
"Gob," she said. "Look at me." The barkeep lifted his head slowly to exchange a gaze with her. "You know that wish that I said I always wanted at Christmas, but I never got?"
"Yeah..?" he said, warily.
"Well..." She let out a deep breath, embarrassment flushing her cheeks red. "I always wanted to get my first kiss." Gob's eyes meandered to the side and then back to her, trying to register just what she meant. "And not just from anybody... I mean.. It would have to be from someone I really liked... Even better...if I...lo..." Goodness, where had her strength gone, she wondered. She was still young, but she felt even more a kid now. She locked her knees together to stop her foot from shuffling against the floor. Why was she getting so shy all of a sudden? Her eyes found Gob's intensely blue ones again and she bit her tongue a little. Oh, heavens...It was just Gob! Just sweet...gentle … "Oh."
He had stood up from the stool and was looking right at her now. It took everything she had not to look away.
"What are you saying?" he asked, jaw set tightly. He thought he had heard right, but he could never be sure. What if his mind was playing tricks on him like it always did. All of it was just a fantasy, always!
"What I just said," was all she said. God, he wasn't going to make her spell it out was he? If he kept looking at her like that she was going to faint from all the blood to her face. "Oh, Gob, don't look at me like that..." Her voice was barely audible, probably a thought she had meant to keep to herself but had failed.
"Why?" he asked. The look she spoke of was still plastered on his ravaged face. Even without the skin she could see a strained hope in his ghostly eyes, coupled with something that said he would do anything she asked.
"Because," she chuckled nervously, reaching up and pressing a hand to his chest. "Because... I said so.."
She was startled to hear his raspy, soft chuckle and feel his hand against hers at his chest.
"Is it really what you want... from me?" he asked stepping closer to her, silently daring her to prove to him it was all a dream. She was the hero of the wasteland, but she couldn't possibly stomach this, could she?
She took a deep breath, and rather than answering him she closed her eyes and stood there. Gob blinked a couple of times, unsure of what to do.
"Come on...," he murmured, nervously. "You don't really..." She remained silent still, waiting. "Fine... but don't blame me if you throw-"
"Gob!" she declared, eyes still closed with an agitated expression. Gob huffed a breath and shut up. Swallowing thickly, he leaned in and hovered over her lips with his own, his breath caressing them lightly . He inhaled a little, smelling the wine on her breath. Part of him yearned so much to kiss her, insisting to himself that she had asked and that it was really truly happening. The other part wrenched him with guilt for wanting this, and threatened that he would wake up any second alone and enslaved on his uncomfortable cot.
She opened her eyes a little to see him warring with himself. Bringing her hands up she cupped his cheeks and lightly brushed her lips to his to show him she was willing.
"Gob... Kiss me," she pleaded softly. It was all he needed to quiet the voices arguing in his head. He gave in to his need to fulfill this, as much for him as for her. His lips pressed gently into hers, reveling in the tender sweetness of her warm flesh. Shivers ran through him when he felt her press against him, arms sliding around his neck in a much more intimate embrace. He wasn't quite sure what to do with his own hands. Certainly, he could think of plenty things he wanted to do at this point, but he didn't want to ruin this for her by getting grabby. Finally, he managed to settle them cautiously at her hips.
When they finally parted, a little short of breath, Gob looked in her eyes and once more felt a faint smile claim his face. It seemed to be getting more and more regular these days. He chuckled against her lips in that rough way she so enjoyed hearing these days.
"Merry Christmas, kid..."