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. Written in an awkward style, so hope you can bear with me. Will deviate from the main plot at points, due to being an AU. Not sure where this is going. Come along for the ride, why don'tcha?


SKINLESS

Chapter One: And Into The Light

x

The first thing I'm learning is that the world outside the vault is pretty much a wasteland. And that's exactly what my Pip-Boy says it is, updated after two hundred years of being underground, mapping out the way the world's changed. It's telling me (at least, I'm pretty sure it's telling me) that the weird, metal dome I can see in the mid-distance is some kind of settlement. So, yeah, I'm gonna strike out for that.

This is crazy. This is totally, totally crazy.

I've got no idea how I'm keeping calm right now. There is blood on me. I can feel it in my fucking shoes. There's some on my cheek, I'm sure of it, but I can't make myself wipe it off. I can't make myself touch it. I beat someone to death today - someone I probably would have got to known, as I got older, someone who probably had a family. I took my baseball bat - my fucking baseball bat, the one Dad and Jonah taught me how to use when I was six and I've kept safe ever since - to bash someone's brains in. I felt his armour splinter and his skull give way and oh God why am I thinking about it I'm going to vomit.

Ugh.

Okay, I'm shaking now. Shit. Okay, stop it, keep it together. Don't be that guy who keels over five feet out of the vault, c'mon.

I keep thinking about throwing the baseball bat away. I can't. It's blood stained and battered and I can't, because what if something happens to me out here? I don't know what...monsters could be out here. I don't know how to defend myself, and right now, my baseball bat of death feels a lot sturdier in my hands than a gun I don't know how to shoot.

Alright, I'm going to keep going. I could probably move faster if I put the bat away but fuck that noise. I can see miles in every direction, but there are rocks and hollows and anything could pop up at any minute and I cannot express the extent to which I'm not okay with that. I could probably also make better time if I didn't keep stopping every few seconds because of the noises out here. It's quiet, but there's these sounds that...I don't know. And then there's the lack of sounds. No machines. No pipes. I don't like it. This isn't home.

But I guess the vault isn't anymore, either.

Suddenly, the jumpsuit I'm wearing feels like a relic of a childhood I've just outgrown.

It takes a while, but I get there. I move carefully round the outside until I find what looks like a way in. A robot chirps at me - LOUDLY. I don't know what I say to it. I don't know if I say anything. The doors are big and heavy and it hits me that I'm going to have to butch up, massively, if I'm going to survive for ten minutes out here.

What hits me first is the smell. It smells of people, all pressed together in one small space, in a way the vault never did. You could smell that kind of thing at parties, and at assemblies, but here it's magnified a hundredfold, and this is every day, this is life, this closeness and craziness, and how the hell am I going to survive out here? The structure of the place is intense, and that's what I notice next. It's like nothing I've ever seen, in a book or out of it. The whole town - city? - is cobbled together out of metal and scrap, and it hits me that this is what people can achieve. More than vaults, more than learning, they can achieve survival.

And that's what my life is gonna have to be now. Survival.

I notice all of a sudden, now I'm done staring at the place, that someone is closing in on me. He's big, broad shouldered, and he lifts the brim of his hat and says, "Welcome to Megaton!"

And I pass out, because he doesn't have a face.


I wake up on a bed. It's lumpy and I can feel dirt and grime under my hands and neck, but it's definitely a bed. I open my eyes, and see that I'm inside...something. Somewhere. There are other beds all around me, so maybe communal barracks? The guy from before is sitting near my bed on a chair, and this time, I try not to freak the fuck out on him.

But when I say this guy doesn't have a face, I mean, like, he doesn't have a face. I can see his eyes and he seems to have...an eyelid and no, there's no nose and I can see the muscles in his jaw moving as he smiles at me. Like, I can see them tense and tighten because there is no skin covering them. I have no idea what I've walked into here. I have no idea if this is okay. I realise, for the first time, that I could have just walked into a settlement of cannibals here and not realised it at all.

I take a shaky breath, and sit up.

He looks friendly, does the faceless man. He's got a duster on and a big star pinned to his jacket, the kind that they wore in the Old West to mark out the Sheriff. He's smiling, and he's holding his hands up, and I guess if he wanted to eat me or kill me he would have done it when I was unconscious, instead of putting me to bed and sitting patiently waiting for me to wake up.

I exhale, and think maybe I'm ready to deal with this.

"I just got out of a vault," is what my brain decides to run with as an opener. My voice is somewhere between crackly and squeaky, and I touch my throat. I hadn't realised how thirsty I was.

The faceless guy's smile stays in place. "Figured as much," he says, with a meaningful glance at my jumpsuit. "I'm guessing that's why you seem so shocked right now. Can't imagine they have many ghouls down in those places."

"Ghoul?" Even as I say it, I figure out it's the name for whatever this man is. But the name and the person before me don't connect up, so I let him keep smiling understandingly, and carry on.

"I'm Lucas Simms," he says. "Let me tell you a little bit about the Capitol Wasteland."


Alright then.

So, ghouls.

Huh.

Who'd have thunk?

Oh wow okay that water is really irradiated. Blegh. Ugh.

God, this is really...the world. This is America, isn't it?

This is what's left.


I never realised...I never thought...

Life in the vault – the whole vault itself – it's just been...my whole life. Manufactured, structured. And out here, there's dirt and sky and night time and sunlight and everyone looks so thin.

And these guys...

These are the ones the radiation helps.

What's it like out there?


Okay, okay, so call me sheltered, but it's a lot to take in, you know? Lucas is gone and I'm pretty beat. My Pip-Boy's telling me it's only something like 2pm outside but it feels like I've been awake all night. I guess, not counting my prima donna fainting spell, I kinda have. Since Amata woke me up, things have been...

Yeah.

I'm just sitting here looking at my hands. I know what ghouls are, now, and I know how many of them there are. I keep wondering if, you know, if that's going to be. In a month. In a year. If my skin's gonna come off and my hair's gonna fall out and...am I going to ghoulify?

Look, call me a bigot, whatever (yeah, Lucas explained that little unsavoury part of the wastes, too) but I don't want to...change like that. I like my skin. I've had it all my life. It's this crazy shit spinning through my head, because every time I think how much I don't want to start turning into a ghoul, I start thinking about how probably Lucas didn't exactly have his heart set on it, either. Or anyone.

He told me he had always wanted a kid. A son. Ghouls are infertile. He told me he would have named him Hardin.

This is a pretty shitty world, and I don't know why I think I expected anything different.

That's the thing, I guess. I didn't expect anything.

I never expected to have to find out.


A full hour of sloth and existential angst later and I think I'm about ready to move. Looking at the kind of clothes Lucas had on, my shrimpy little vault suit doesn't seem like the best attire to go traipsing about in. Maybe there's a shop in town?

...I don't have any money. Great.

Well, opportunities don't come to those who sit on their asses and contemplate the theory of going outside. I get up, head outside, and pretty much head butt the chest of a man coming in the opposite direction.

I blurt out "ow!" because apparently I'm a precious little cherub who can't take a bump to the head in stoic silence. The guy steps back a little, his hands coming up to steady my shoulders. I don't know if I see his face or his hands, first, but it's enough – this guy has skin. He's human. He's like me.

"Careful there, lass," he says, his words rolling out in a pleasant accent I've never heard. "Don't want to wind up knocking yourself out again!"

Oh so apparently news travels fast in Megaton. But I like that he says knock yourself out like I didn't just swoon into the radioactive dust. It means either Lucas is telling the story that way to save me face (good) or this guy is pleasant enough to overlook that and treat me like I'm not a freak (still good).

"I'm Carla," I say, sticking out my hand. "I just got out of a vault."

I decide right then that until I find my feet, that's going to be my standard greeting. Let people know what kind of idiot they're up against.

The guy takes my hand. He's big, broad. Looks older than my dad, with a white beard and his hair all slicked-back. His grip's firm and reassuring, and he smiles. "Colin. I work at the saloon." He gestures vaguely behind him, and I nod enthusiastically. Colin. Human. Good.

"Thought I'd come by and see how you were doing," he continues. He leans forward conspiratorially, and adds, "thought ya might like to see a familiar face, if you know what I mean."

"Yes," I say, with no little relief. I'm so glad. Him saying that, it kind of makes me feel less...weird? I mean, about not being totally...comfortable with the idea of ghouls. Yet. "Yeah. I walked into Mr Simms and just..." I wave my hand ineffectually. He gets it, I'm sure.

His smile widens. He's friendly, he's nice. And something about his accent is just really comforting. I keep getting the weirdest feeling I've heard it before, too, like when I was a kid. Maybe on an old holotape or something. His grip on my hand changes and he holds it like he's guiding me, and says, "Fancy letting an old man like me show you round the place?"

"Sure," I say. Lucas had offered, but amidst the whole 'most of humanity are now skinless mutants who live for centuries and treat irradiated ponds like hot tubs' speech I guess the idea kind of got buried. Colin releases my hand and leads my outside and away from the barracks, into the afternoon light of Megaton.

My second look at the city is even more impressive than the first. Now that I can see how different things are, the idea of this place being built from nothing is even more incredible. Colin begins to point out the sights, and that's when I notice the bomb.

I guess I must have been stuttering some kind of question at him because he says, "Ah. Yes. You've noticed our town's attraction, then."

"That's a bomb," I croak, eventually. "Is it...active?" He nods. I feel sick.

"Keeps us safe," Colin says. I'm about to tell him I'm really not seeing it, but he carries on. "Not many people out to raid you when there's that sitting in the middle of your yard."

"Yeah, they'll just sit back and let the bomb do its work!"

I must be getting a bit loud, because Colin tugs my sleeve and begins to mutter into my ear. It sound like nonsense at first, but then I realise that he's serious about there being a cult in town that worships the bomb. It starts to make more sense to me when I realise that, oh, wait, this town is filled with people for whom radiation is a pleasant glow. As long as it doesn't explode...

Yeah, I don't really feel better.

But Colin is already pulling me on, pointing out houses and waving at people he seems to know. Most of them are ghouls. In the whole tour, I see two, maybe three human being. The rest of the town has changed. By the time we stop outside the saloon, I've seen more internal anatomy than I thought I'd ever see short of taking up my dad's work, and learnt that if I need caps "Moira pays fair" but will "probably send me to a gruesome and untimely death". I've also learnt "never ask Nathan to tell you more about the Enclave", but that was a lesson taught the hard way.

"And here we are," Colin says, running the last two words together. "Home sweet home."

"You live here as well?" I ask him.

Something in his face turns a little bitter. "Where else?" he asks. Yeah, there's definitely something angry and cold in his tone.

"What do you mean –"

He cuts me off. "I'll take you in to meet the boss and a few of the locals. Just...don't piss him off, okay? He seems friendly, but..." He puts a hand on my shoulder, heavy with warning. "Just trust me okay, lass?"

I nod. "I won't piss your boss off, Colin."

He grins. "Good girl. Shall we?"

And with that, he pushes the door to the saloon open.