A/n: This is the last chapter. It's been a long journey, and a very fun one. I appreciate everyone who has read, favorited, alerted, and given reviews. This is the first fic that I've completed, and it feels really good.
There is a sequel (more like continuation, since there are threads yet to tie up) in planning, and a Skyrim fic. I may also do a few one shots in the Newton's Third universe as well, like Captured was. I'll also do one shots with prompts too, if any of you have things you'd like to see from this universe. Send in a request if you have one :)
The armored man approached him, his companions darting out from cover. They pointed glowing, old-world weapons at him, and Lanius wondered if their intent was to kill. He shifted the weight of his sword on his back, prepared to fight if they proved hostile.
"Don't move!" the leader ordered.
Lanius frowned, and figured he could bite his tongue while they did as they pleased. So long as they didn't harm him or steal from him, he would do nothing; it was his first lesson in patience.
While one member of the group kept their weapon trained on him, the others began to give Lanius a systematic search. By removing his bag and sword, they were increasingly close to making him snap and show them his wrath. But a warning in the back of his mind told the Butcher to stay his hand. Didn't the Courier travel with one of the Brotherhood of Steel? These could be under her leadership.
"Look at this," one of the searchers marveled.
The leader turned his head to look inside the bag, and it took all of Lanius' effort to not react violently.
"That was a gift," he intoned.
"From where?" the leader questioned.
"A casino," Lanius frowned.
"Probably fake," the leader shrugged, "let him keep them. We're after tech, and a couple of fake gold bricks would weigh us down."
Another member of the group stepped forward to roughly pat him down for hidden items. While they searched thoroughly, the leader held on to his bag.
"Name?" he questioned.
"Yours?" Lanius quipped, "Your friend here is getting rather intimate for a stranger." There was a feminine chuckle behind his back as the searcher's hands dove between his legs.
"That's not a weapon," he ground out. She spent more time there than was necessary.
"It's where they hide em sometimes," one of the onlookers remarked. The others chuckled at this.
The leader snapped at them, demanding order.
"Have you ever owned or fired an energy weapon?" he asked, crossing his arms in impatience.
"They have a slower rate of fire," Lanius intoned, "loading them is a hassle, and they leave an unrecognizable mess of their victims. In hunting, they are useless, and in battle, they leave a questionable body count."
There was silence as the woman behind him coughed. Yes, he held distaste for their very lifestyle.
"One of your own travels with the Courier," Lanius volunteered, "and I wonder how that came to be. Robbing travelers doesn't seem to be the Courier's style. Did your scribe abandon her people?"
The leader stormed up to him, his rage palpable behind his mask.
"You don't know Veronica," he hissed, "she is too trusting, and we mourn for her loss."
"She's not dead," the woman behind the Butcher sighed.
"She might as well be," the leader remarked, "for all the brainwashing they did to her."
Apparently, they were not in the Courier's employ. This meant that the Brotherhood of Steel grew bold, left their bunker, and were searching nearby travelers for technology. Part of Caesar's plans involved eradicating them, and Lanius knew why; they were a greedy people that worshiped technology, the root cause of the Great War.
"He's got nothing," the woman announced.
Scowling, the leader grabbed his arm and attempted to jostle him around, but it was no use. Even in power armor, Lanius was bigger and stronger. They could attempt to push him around all day and they would get nowhere.
"Get out of here," the man growled, giving him a shove to the road.
Lanius chuckled and continued on his way. His plans changed; he had to tell the Courier about the Brotherhood on her roads, if she wasn't aware of it already. It could be a bargaining chip to get into her good graces, after all. Perhaps, he could destroy them for her as tribute. He would need armor to do such a thing.
As he made his way through the outer perimeter of Vegas, Lanius began to formulate his plan of how to win the Courier over. After all, the Mojave was the only place he knew of that he could go, besides north into the wilderness. Such a prospect was disheartening; he didn't want to be alone.
A gate loomed before him, with a sign that said 'Freeside'. So, this was the fabled den of iniquity that he heard of. It occurred to him that he wouldn't have been able to read the sign were it not for Vulpes, and immediately, his stomach soured. But despite his discomfort, he had to press onward; Lanius had a debt to repay. He glanced at the man that stood at the gate, and wondered if he was permitted to pass.
"Hey," the man nodded, "don't cause a ruckus in Freeside, and it'll be gravy." He shrugged his sagging leather jacket, tossed his greased hair back, and opened the gate without hesitation. Lanius wondered if his appearance was so common that he wasn't noteworthy. More likely, the man at the gate had seen a little bit of everything.
He stepped into Freeside, steeling himself for a bandit around every corner. Instead, he was greeted by the sight of rows of tables filled with food. Vendors called out prices and announced that their produce was Mojave-grown while the townsfolk traded caps for food. A radio played softly in a nearby shop that had an open glass door and windows, a breeze from indoor fans stirring faded, yellow curtains.
There was a smell about the place; it was the scent of worn earth, of animals and man. The scent of filth was conspicuously absent. He stepped cautiously forward, wondering if the rumors had been false, or if he was in the wrong place.
"You look lost, pal," a man called.
Lanius turned to look at him, and saw another man dressed in a leather jacket, his hair slicked back. This had to be an identity; perhaps, they were part of the Kings.
"I'm trying to find the Strip," he frowned. Lanius hated asking for help.
The man shrugged and motioned for him to follow. Around him, the crowd parted and made way so they could walk.
"You a bounty hunter?" the man asked.
Lanius' response was a flat 'no'.
"Looking to start over, eh?" he smiled, "this is a great place to do that. The Mojave is a place of second chances, and Freeside is a perfect example of it."
He didn't know how the King knew this, but he figured that if he wasn't a bounty hunter, then he was surely an ex-convict. The assumption was closer to the truth than Lanius liked.
The man led him through a broken down bus and down the street, pointing out the Kings' headquarters. He then took him toward a large, long gate that was guarded by a pack of the robots Lanius saw at the dam. Had the Courier turned the Strip into her Fortress?
"You could find work on the farm," the King nodded, "but a guy like you might want to be a bodyguard. In there, you'll find plenty of rich cats that want guarding."
"And the Courier?" Lanius asked.
The man laughed and shook his head.
"Gal's got some elite ex-Legionaries as guards," he chuckled, "one of 'em turned out to be Fox."
"Fox?" Lanius questioned. It had to be Vulpes, but he needed to know as much information as possible.
"Local pervert, pretty harmless," the man replied, "or we thought he was. Turns out he was on the NCR's most wanted list. He's real sweet on the Courier though, and she's practically leading him around on a string. Didn't know those guys were susceptible to dames."
Lanius stared down at the man and sighed.
"Every man is susceptible to a pretty face," he remarked, thinking of his own downfall. The King nodded in agreement.
"Well, this is the gate to the Strip," the man nodded, "hope you've got your passport, bub."
"Passport?" he questioned.
The King's face fell.
"You've gotta have a passport to get in to the Strip," he replied, "it used to be that everyone had to pay, but now it's just non-citizens. Of course, if a citizen causes trouble, they're on probation. But you've gotta pay to get in if you're not from the Mojave."
Lanius growled in frustration. He hadn't come this far, only to be turned away. Making up his mind, he stormed up to the gate, despite the gang member's protest that the bots had guns – and really big rockets. A bot rolled in front of him, ordering him to provide a passport or submit to a citizen's check.
"Don't play this game with me," he hissed, "you know who I am, and you know who I'm here for."
As the King backed up in worry, the bot's screen flickered before turning into the smiley face Lanius saw before. A crowd began to gather, wanting to watch the strange happenings unfold. They whispered amongst themselves about a 'Yes Man', and that it was apparently a rare sight.
"And who may I say is calling?" it asked.
"The Butcher," Lanius ground out.
"And who shall I give this message to?" it chirped.
What was the protocol for this? Was he supposed to ask Vulpes permission to speak with the Courier, or was he to ask the Courier for permission to speak to Vulpes? He was the man, and she was female, but she was the leader, and he was not.
"The Courier and Vulpes," he replied, unable to make up his mind.
"Oh my goodness," the robot groaned, "Do you have any idea how tough it is to get a hold of them? I think they live in that bedroom. The amount of sheet washing that has to be done is ridiculous. And it is so loud, all the time. Some of her friends ended up leaving, and others ended up moving down the hallway. It is so bad, man."
There was a pause as the crowd murmured and stared at the robot.
"I just said that in public," the robot stated.
Lanius nodded slowly. The bot's description sounded just like Vulpes.
"Kay," it chuckled, "give me a minute. I'll send 'em down."
The bot's face flickered back to its standard look as it presumably disappeared to summon the Courier and Vulpes. Cautiously, the gang member that led him toward the gate approached.
"So, just who are you, mister?" he asked. Much to his disappointment, Lanius didn't answer.
The crowd began to press him for answers, but Lanius wouldn't speak. He had nothing to say to them. They grew louder, until the gates to the Strip swung open to reveal Vulpes, the Courier, and an entourage of strangers and praetorians. There was a flicker of emotion on Vulpes' face when their eyes met, and Lanius swallowed.
His heart didn't leap as he expected, but the lust was still there, searing him from the inside out.
He wasn't sure what to feel when he saw Lanius, even after the time all the time he had to collect his thoughts. There was a twinge of apprehension, and a dash of something he couldn't name as Vulpes slowly approached the man who destroyed him. He felt no fear, however. He couldn't be hurt again.
"We're not going to discuss anything here," Vulpes stated.
This appeared acceptable to the Butcher, who nodded and followed him out into the desert. When they were a safe distance away from town, Vulpes signaled that the group stop. If he was going to have a personal conversation, he wanted it to be as private as possible. It was somewhat irritating that part of the crowd from Freeside followed them out, but it was the price of being a high profile individual.
"Leave the sword," Six grumbled. She had no idea that she was telling Lanius to do something that he would never do, under any circumstances.
Surprisingly, the Butcher drew his sword from his back and presented it to Six. As soon as the sword's weight transferred to the Courier, the tip fell straight to the ground, an 'oh geez' following soon after. She attempted to lift it and succeeded in dragging it through the dust. Sighing, she allowed Crassius to handle the Blade of the East.
Vulpes led Lanius out a way, until they were out of earshot of everyone. He regarded the man coolly, and waited for him to say the first words. It was obvious that he'd been dethroned, given that he wore no armor. Lanius stared at him, unsure of what to say. Vulpes figured that perhaps, the Butcher didn't expect to have the chance to even speak.
"Well?" Vulpes asked. He crossed his arms and feigned indifference. It seemed to snap the Butcher out of his stupor.
"Kanut hung himself over what happened," Lanius admitted.
Jesus Christ. That was awful news.
"And you expect me to like that?" Vulpes sighed, "That is the worst ice-breaker I've ever heard." He couldn't help but chuckle; Lanius was ever the barbarian. His amusement seemed to put the other man at ease.
"I am not good at this stuff," Lanius replied.
He was about to send off a mouthy retort, but the Butcher silenced him by hooking his chin and giving him a slow, thorough kiss. Out of the corner of his eye, Vulpes saw Six seething. But she didn't love him anyway, right? Smirking, Vulpes kissed back, pulling away after a moment.
"Is that how you forgive someone?" Lanius asked, surprised that there had been a response at all.
"Sure," Vulpes shrugged, "But should I let you off that easily?"
As Lanius stared at the ground, they both knew that the answer was no. The man who had been described as an animal, a mountain, and the bull of the Legion itself, fidgeted in front of him, shame clearly written across his face.
"I loved you," he confessed.
Vulpes blinked in confusion. He hadn't been aware, or at least, chose to ignore each and every attempted heartfelt confession.
"These belong to you," he continued. Lanius removed the bag from his shoulders and withdrew the gold bars from the Sierra Madre, handing them over. He then took a box out of the bag, and Vulpes instantly knew what it was. Prying open the box, Vulpes confirmed that it was Vera Keyes' ring, the very one he intended to give to Six.
But what was the point in that? Six didn't love him, and was adamant about it.
"Maybe this is insane," Vulpes sighed, "but you can stay with us, if Six allows it."
And it was insane. He was inviting the man who made his life a living hell for months to live with him, but at the same time, Vulpes didn't have the heart to be angry. He didn't have the heart to hold a grudge. And truthfully, it was almost painful how similar their situations were. A part of him wondered if Six even cared about their time together, or if she simply laid there in disinterest. He was getting weary of constantly worrying over her, of looking her in the eyes as he made love to her, knowing she didn't love him in return.
"Is this one of your games?" Lanius asked.
Vulpes rolled his eyes and began to walk back toward the group. He didn't play games; Lanius could follow him, or he could not. A set of footsteps behind him told Vulpes that the Butcher chose to believe him.
As soon as he reached the group, he handed the gold bricks off to Marcus. Vulpes knew that he would have to speak with Six about letting Lanius stay.
While the rest of the group appeared to be more at ease, Six appeared even more upset. Vulpes wondered if she was truly jealous, and if so, why. They hadn't declared that they were monogamous, after all. The thought of being with anyone else, however, was rather disinteresting to Vulpes. He was still hopelessly in love.
"You asked him to stay, didn't you?" Six asked. Her arms were crossed, her mouth drawn into a pout.
Vulpes opened his mouth to reply, but the Courier interrupted.
"Don't deny it," she huffed, "I couldn't hear you, but I read your lips."
She turned to address Lanius.
"You can stay, but if you do so much as look at him the wrong way," Six beamed, "then I'll claw your eyes out."
Vulpes blinked in confusion. The Courier was never one to make threats.
Six stared up at the man who was known to be a butcher. This man threatened New Vegas once, but her concern was to ensure that Vulpes wouldn't be harmed again. Though she knew that Lanius was safe now, she still didn't trust him.
Lanius knelt before Six in respect, but her mind was on other things, namely, what possessed Vulpes to kiss someone who wasn't her.
"The Brotherhood of Steel moves against you," he said, "if you wish, I will destroy them in your name to prove my loyalty."
Six frowned. Her jealousy could wait.
"What do you mean by, 'they move against me'?" She asked. Six didn't have to turn around to know that Veronica was upset.
"On my way here," Lanius continued, "I was accosted by the Brotherhood of Steel. They have become common bandits in their quest for technology. I will personally destroy them if you see fit."
"There's gotta be a mistake," Veronica protested, "I'm sure we can talk it all out."
The Butcher growled in frustration, clearly not used to being questioned.
"I was held at gunpoint while they searched me for technology," he insisted, "and I wasn't the first or the last."
Veronica shook her head, and Vulpes stepped forward to diffuse the situation.
"Perhaps they've run out of resources," he remarked, "or, they're unaware of the new government here. They do not leave that bunker often. Regardless, we're going to need Veronica's help. There's no need to kill them unless Six wants to kill them." Lanius shrugged and conceded the point.
Six nodded and smiled. Vulpes was always able to come up with a solution that would appease both parties, while still being practical. His smarts, his cunning, and his way with words were just a few of the things that she loved about him. To top it off, he forgave the person who destroyed him, something that must have been difficult. Six admired him all the more for it; she would have never been able to forgive. It was yet another thing that made her love him. She froze as the weight of her thought hit her:
Six loved Vulpes.
She blinked at him in shock, wondering when it happened. It certainly explained her jealousy. Vulpes gave her a strange look, and Six couldn't keep it in any longer. Quickly, she grabbed his hand and hauled him away from the group to tell him her new secret.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
Six bit her lip and stared up at him. Getting up on her tiptoes, the Courier leaned in to whisper it in his ear. She stepped back, her face heating up as he blinked at her in confusion.
"I did not hear that," Vulpes smirked.
She didn't believe that for a second and squirmed. He was trying to make her uncomfortable. Giving in, the Courier snaked her arms around his shoulders and stared him in the eyes.
"I love you," she admitted.
"Really?" he whispered, leaning in to kiss her.
Six stared into his eyes and nodded.
"Forever," she added.
He kissed her quickly and stepped back. It was then that she noticed the black box in his hand. Vulpes bent down on one knee and opened the box to reveal a beautiful red-stoned ring. Six wasn't quite sure what it meant, but Veronica gasped and couldn't stop grinning and telling her to say yes.
"You all do it like this, right?" he chuckled, looking uneasy.
"Do what?" she asked.
Chuckling, Vulpes stood and put the ring on her left hand. He grabbed the mark around her neck, the one that she wore every day since he gave it to her. It seemed that they ran into another gap in her memories, but he was patient as usual.
"Propose," he smiled, "but just wear this."
Six gasped and swiveled around to look at him.
"After all the crap I put you through," she replied, "you want to marry me?"
Vulpes flashed a bright smile and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
"If I'm a sucker," he shrugged, "then so be it."
Six giggled and slapped his arm. In her quest to do everything for everyone else, it seemed that she forgot herself, including her quest for her identity. She walked back home with her friends, knowing that they would always be there for her, regardless of what happened. And as she sneaked a glance up at Vulpes, she knew that the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. It wasn't the piece she was looking for, but it was the one she needed.
Six decided that she was okay with not knowing who she was.
She had friends, and she was in love. Everything else seemed unimportant in comparison.