Disclaimer: I do not own Fallout New Vegas or any part of the Fallout franchise. I am not making a profit from this.
Note: For the kink meme.
It's been a long day.
There is sand under the remnants of his skin and there is sweat clinging to him, a sheen across his body, under his clothes. There is dirt in every crease and fold of the battered joke of his jacket and it has been a long, long day.
For Raul Tejada, it has been a long year.
He's already a dozen lifetimes past where he figured he'd end up, and the blistering Mojave sun is less forgiving these days than it's ever been before. It's his age, he thinks, and age isn't just about how old your body gets and whether your eyes are still good and how fast you can run. Age comes to you in weariness, in days after days after days, in an endlessness and a scope of infinity laid out behind you. It comes to you in dreams about stuff that happened a hundred, two hundred years ago; when you look down at your hands and see skin that hasn't been there for longer than anyone around you has been alive.
He is old and he is tired and there isn't much left in the world he's interested in and the Mojave isn't what it used to be.
The redhead sitting at the bar a few seats down from him is giving him eyes, and it's a minute or two before he recognises her. It's harder these days, keeping memories straight. God, it has been a long, long life.
Rose of Sharon Cassidy has let her hair grow out. It flicks at her shoulders, unruly and curled by dirt and grease and desert air. Her hat still shades her eyes and her necklace still hangs against her chest. Her skin is still smooth and whisky is still her drink, and she looks older.
Everyone is older these days, and age doesn't have much to do with it.
The first thing she says to him is, "It's been a long, hard war for our old friend, hasn't it?"
He waves to the bartender, getting them both another drink, and says, "It's been a long, hard war for all of us, senorita."
He switches to whisky in her honour, and Cass raises a bottle to both of their health. They were there at Hoover Dam and they saw this new era rung in, and they are among the precious few who can lay claim to such a glory. There are battle scars on both of them from these past five years, across their bodies and scored deep into their souls. It's not the world they fought for, and though they know the hero they followed is busting their ass keeping shit together, it isn't enough.
The Legion approaches; the NCR falters. New Vegas is this lonely beacon in the middle of a tempest, the eye of some wild and vicious storm brewing around them. But one day the storm will shift, and the eye will move, and havoc and chaos will be come again.
"What have you been up to?"
"The usual. Killing bad guys. Protecting traders. Making a living wherever there's a living to be made. Fixing shit up. Getting by."
It's the same for both of them. The same endless plain stretches off in every direction outside, and the sky is too high above for either of them to reach for. He remembers better days and Cass does too, but not the same days he does. It's a lonely life, and he tells her that, a lonely life when the places you called home and the things that tied you to this old land are gone and no one remembers them. Cass listens to him talk with a frown, like the words he's saying don't mean anything to her, can't mean anything to her, and before he knows it, he's telling her about his childhood.
"Horses," he says, doodling in the dust on the bar. "You could ride 'em. Ain't nothing like them around now. Ain't nothing like a lot of stuff from back then."
"It's a new world," Cass says. There is regret in her tone, and he fancies it's a kind of mourning that comes from knowing there was a better time and you can never be part of it.
"It's a new world," Raul agrees, and something in his heart stings. He thinks of Rafaela, of Claudia, of the bright eyed kid who opened that door on Black Mountain and set him free again. He thinks of blood and war and bad governance and how time never stops, not for him, not for Cass, not for anyone. "It's an old world."
"The oldest there is." She raises her bottle again. "Nowhere to go but tomorrow."
He chinks glass with her. Cass is worn behind the eyes and beautiful, beautiful like cactus flowers and canyons and the rains after drought.
"You're so goddamn young," he says. It comes from nowhere, from everywhere, from two hundred years ago and from the moment last week when he noticed his hand shaking without his say-so. It comes from regret and loss, from the old world and the new deserts around them. Cass gives him this look like she knows, and really, they're both so drunk it's a wonder they remember who they are.
"Doesn't feel that way," she admits. "That's the worst fucking thing, you know. Never felt young in my life. Don't think such a thing exists anymore. It's from books and stories, and it went out with the bombs."
"So did a lot of things."
Cass tosses her head back and laughs. Her hair is a mess of fire and blood and dirt, and she is vibrant and alive. "Listen to us," she says. "Listen to us. We have our health. We have food, water. Listen to us."
"There used to be more to life," he tells her.
She shakes her head. "Not for me. It's been this since the damned day I was born, so why does it feel like I'm missing something that used to be here?"
Raul thinks on that. Maybe it's some deep, primal part of humanity, some old genetic memory that's clinging to the idea that survival and day-to-day isn't all there isn't. Maybe it's the dreamscape, clawing at consciousness, no longer happy to be banished behind the walls of danger and fatigue and the fight to live.
Cass takes his hand. Her fingers land right on the line between camaraderie and more, and the look in her eyes is this thing of understanding and familiarity and friendship. She knows him, and he knows her. It's been five years but that's five more years of history than he's got with anyone else in this desert.
"Travelling alone ain't so much fun anymore."
"Always good to have an extra pair of eyes when you're on the road," he agrees.
They order another round and drink on through the night. It's a new world, an old world, a cruel world and an empty world, but there is more out there than survival. They drink and celebrate a newfound partnership, a new flickering of somethingness, a chance for something different.
He doesn't know where they'll go, and he would bet everything down to the clothes on his back that Cass doesn't, either. Maybe they'll travel East, and keep going until there's no more desert. Maybe they'll run to the coast and strike out, sailing through irradiated waters on whatever craft they can find. Maybe they'll hit Vegas with guns and glory and go out in a blaze of fire and fury. Maybe they'll die, anonymous, in the desert, and maybe they'll live forever.
Raul doesn't know. But there's more to life than survival, and if it's still out there, they are going to find it.