Author's Note: This chapter shouldn't have given me as many issues as it did, and yet here we are. I hope it's okay? Part of the problem was that it was unplanned for me to take them this direction. The next chapter is actually planned, so hopefully it shouldn't take another month before I publish it. Ugh. Also, new song use for titles starts now. It's Fireside by the Arctic Monkeys if anyone's curious. And as always, thank you to all my readers. :)
Lieutenant Boyd laid it all out for them. Well. Not exactly. She was implicit enough that what she wanted could be inferred, but a direct order hadn't been given. A mission wasn't assigned. As far as the NCR was concerned, they were subcontractors hired to 'oversee' an interrogation. The Lieutenant tossed around the word 'intern' a lot in her pitch to Riley, but Boone was pretty damn sure she didn't want them to fetch coffee.
She'd left them fifteen minutes ago to talk it over, leaving the three of them in the interrogation room. They stood on the other side of a pane of two-way glass. The only thing between them and him. Veronica didn't stand, though. She sat perched on the only table in the room, looking bored.
He turned to Riley. She hadn't said much. She leaned against a wall of lockers, watching the Centurion with a thoughtful expression. She'd normally have a plan by now, or at least look to him for an opinion. Was she going to agree to this? Would she be able to handle it? He wasn't sure. Because she wasn't saying anything.
Another minute ticked by where he and Veronica held their tongues, and when the second minute ticked by—thereby making it a total of seventeen minutes of Riley Silence—he couldn't take it anymore.
"Do you remember the Madre?" she asked abruptly. He took a moment to answer.
"Hard not to."
The corner of her mouth lifted and she turned to look at him. Finally. "I'm doing this, but I need to play it right."
Of course she was doing it. When had she ever turned anyone down? He was beginning to wonder if the word 'no' was even in her vocabulary.
"I'm not so sure he's going to respond to a gun to his head," Veronica pointed out, swinging her legs off the table so she could join them. "Not like Dean did."
"He might, actually. He wants to live or he wouldn't have surrendered. Anyways, that's not what I'm talking about. Not exactly."
"Then what are you talking about?" Boone wanted to know.
"I'm talking about what I did with Dean before I put the gun to his head. I got him talking about something else."
Unnecessarily complicated. Typical Riley tactics. There was a simpler way to deal with this. Like she said, the Legion dog on the other side of that glass wanted to live. Though what hope he had of that in the long run now that he was under NCR custody was lost to him. But the illusion of hope could be a powerful motivator.
"You could just let me in there," Boone suggested.
"I could," she agreed. "Of course, then I'd have to explain to the Lieutenant why she has a dead Centurion on her hands and then the NCR will never hire us for anything ever again."
"That's a bit of a leap," he said, but he didn't argue it. She did have a point. Kind of. If he was allowed in there that Centurion wouldn't have much time to do any talking. "And we don't need the money."
She looked away. "I'm not doing it for the money, Boone. I have my reasons."
Reasons. The last time she came face to face with a Legion officer, which was in Nipton, she froze, forcing him to move out of his hide and into the open. She didn't stick to a plan then, and he didn't like that he had to wonder if she would do it again. Maybe that was reason enough.
"What?" she demanded, reading his face.
"Nothing," he said and shook his head. "Your call."
Irritation set into her eyes. Obviously she wasn't convinced of his support, but it was the best he could do right now. He needed to see that she could do it, and he had a suspicion that she needed to do the same thing.
"Can I make a suggestion?" he said instead. She lifted a brow and he sighed, inclining his head in Veronica's direction. "If things don't go well, you let her take over."
"Me?" Veronica blinked politely. "Hey, can-do. You just say the word and I can deliver a beating."
"Gently," Riley stressed.
"A gentle beating," she agreed. "I could do that first if you want. Soften him up for you."
The door opened and Boyd rejoined them, a cup of coffee steaming in her hands.
"That's twenty. Come to a decision?"
They hesitated, exchanging glances.
The Lieutenant fisted one hand on her hip, unamused as nobody spoke.
"Yeah. You're gonna have to make up your god damn mind because whether you agree to this or not, someone needs to go in there and talk with the guy. I only have so many days left to get information out of him before the brass decides the resources he's taking up aren't worth it anymore. I need something out of him and I need that something sooner, rather than later. You got it?"
"It's not a problem," Riley said, her gaze on Veronica. She shook her head once. "I'll do it."
"Good." Boyd moved forward before they could change their minds. "All your weapons on the table, please."
She was going in unarmed. Hell.
Boone watched her quietly as Boyd took her rifle. She was forced to unstrap her sidearm, drop her holsters and pull the knife from her boot. The belt that held her grenades was next to go. She even took the safety pins she was using in lieu of sewing thread on a tear in her jeans. She held out her arms and stood still as Boyd circled her, patting her down.
"Clean," she declared, standing. She didn't look clean, Boone thought. She looked vulnerable. "Let me go in and talk to him."
"Don't mention me," Riley told her. Boyd paused with her key ring already in her hands. "He needs to think I'm not part of this. He needs to think you're not going to be here."
Boyd cocked an eyebrow. "Anything else?"
Riley nodded. "Don't open the door until I ask to leave."
"How are you playing this?" Boyd wanted to know. "Straight? I don't care if you manhandle him."
"That's, uh, Plan B for now," she said.
Boyd nodded. "Then what we're doing stays in this room, got it? Brass won't give two shits so long as I get results, but if news gets out that I let a civilian have a round with a POW then we're going to have a god damn public relations disaster on our hands." She waited until Riley nodded her understanding. "Good. Wait here."
She unlocked the door, closing it behind her and the three of them moved to the glass to watch as the Centurion lifted his head to watch her. He sat on the lone chair in the room, and managed to look both annoyed and defeated at the same time. A bitter end, Boone thought. He'd go down the same way.
"Lieutenant," the Centurion greeted her. "Is it that time already? I do look forward to our conversations. Highlight of my day."
Boyd took a sip of her coffee. "Silus. I'm just here so you wouldn't worry about me."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean—" Another sip. "That I'm on my way for a debriefing with my superiors. They want a status report on just how well we're getting along, Silus."
"And what are you going to tell them?"
Boyd shrugged. "What do you think I should tell them? You're not exactly cooperative."
"Would you be, under the same circumstances?"
"No," Boyd allowed. "I guess I wouldn't be."
"You're wrong," Silus told her, his voice low. "I would be honoured to show you just how wrong. How fast I could break you, Lieutenant. Do you know what we do to profligates?"
Boyd made a show of looking at her watch. "I've read the reports," she said, taking another sip of her coffee. "But like I said, I'm on my way to a meeting. We'll pick up once we're done. Maybe I'll have news for you. Maybe the brass will let me keep you for another week. Or maybe…" she let that hang with a lift of her brows.
Silus said nothing.
"Think about that, would you?" Boyd turned, leaving the way she came. They looked at her expectantly even as she tugged a key from her keyring, holding it out towards Riley.
"You're up. Make it count."
Her palms were already sweating when she stepped into the room. She didn't look at him. She turned, pulling the heavy, metal door behind her until it closed with a whirring click of gears.
"And who are you?"
She didn't answer. She turned around, pressing her hands behind her so they were flat against the wall. The Centurion sat on the single chair on the other side of the room. A cold, bitter gaze with a defeated air. Calculating though. Looking for weakness. She took a breath.
"I want answers."
"Do you?" He tilted his head. "What's the Lieutenant paying you?"
"The Lieutenant's in a meeting."
"So she said."
"I see the beret. First Recon. Used to have a lot of weight behind that name." His mouth pulled back into a sneer as he looked her over. "I'd say your glory days are over, little soldier girl. Or should I say Courier?"
She paused. "So you know who I am."
He smiled slowly. "I've read the reports. Thought you'd be taller."
"Intrigued. You know half the Legion wants you dead."
"They had their chance and lost it. I want answers."
He tilted his head, looking her over again. This time with a more critical eye. "So you said. Have we met? You look… familiar."
"No," she exhaled sharply, annoyed. "Look, I don't have a lot of time—"
"Then I guess you'd better get to the point."
"To the south of here is a town," she snapped. "Novac. Do you know it?"
He lifted a brow.
"About a year ago, a woman went missing. Sold to the Legion by someone she knew."
A smile began to form, teeth showed and he leaned back in his chair. "I know of this town. The woman?" He lifted a shoulder. "One slave among ten thousand."
"I'm not looking for her."
"Abandoned. How typical of the NCR."
"And betrayed by her own neighbour," he went on. "Degenerates never cease to amaze me. No loyalty. No honour."
"You're one to talk about loyalty," she spat. "From what I hear you were supposed to slit your throat before you'd end up here."
"I serve Caesar better alive."
"I'm sure he sees it that way."
His smile fell and that bitter resentment came back into his eyes. He quieted because she was right. Because Caesar didn't forgive failures. He made examples of them. Emboldened, she took a single step forward.
"How are you serving him here talking to me?"
"You think the NCR will hold me here?"
"They're doing a stellar job, so far. How are you getting out?" She spread her hands wide. "This room is under constant guard."
"Oh, I don't know." He tilted his head up at her. Smiled. "Maybe someone will walk in unarmed and with the key."
She resisted the urge to take that step back. Instead, she narrowed her eyes. "You think I'm unarmed."
"Maybe. Maybe not. But you do have the key. I could take a page out of Caesar's book." He leaned forward. "Make an example of you."
"You wouldn't make it to the front gate. Now talk about Novac or we can keep talking about what Caesar does to failures in the Legion. I think there's a Legate that's a prime example of what I'm going for here. How much do you like the heat, really?"
Anger flashed in his eyes now, the resentment burning into something stronger. "You think I don't know? Caesar knows I'm here. Whether I talk or not, I'm a dead man."
"How would he know you're here?"
"How else?" He sounded tired now. "We have a man on the inside. The only reason he hasn't killed me yet is because the good Lieutenant keeps good little soldiers like you guarding my door."
She paused with her mouth open.
"Believe me," he said. "The irony isn't lost on me."
She shook herself. "Here?" she demanded. "Here in McCarran?"
"You think I know?" he laughed softly. "He's an officer and a frumentarius. That's all I know. Put into place here before Caesar even made his move west. Makes nightly reports over radio."
Well hell. If that wasn't a little nugget of information for the Lieutenant's report, she didn't know what was.
"Do you know anything about what happened to the woman in Novac?" she asked, her voice quiet. "Anything. She was taken to—"
"Cottonwood," he finished for her. "That's where I know you from."
She froze. "What?"
He was staring at her, recognition flashed in his eyes. The room seemed much smaller now. "The one who got away," he drawled, mesmerised. "I saw you on Auction Day. I was— And you're the Courier. If only Caesar knew."
She backed up, her voice cracking as her mouth fumbled over the words. "I want out."
The door swung open, and there was Lieutenant Boyd. Silus smiled lazily.
"I guess our time is up."
Ignoring him, Riley rushed to the door, pressing the key into Boyd's hand.
"Good job," Boyd said quietly, but Riley could see the discomfort in her eyes. The knowledge that there was a spy in McCarran wasn't their's alone now. A meeting with Hsu wasn't necessary anymore. "I'll take it over from here."
"Lieutenant," Silus greeted her. "How was the meeting?"
Riley shut the door behind her, joining Boone and Veronica and trying not to feel so shaken.
"Nice work in there," Veronica said as she rushed to the table with her gear. Her hands fumbled with the straps, the buckles. Fitting her holster back in place seemed like an extraordinarily complicated procedure and when she reached her grenade belt she just tossed it into her bag along with her knife. When she turned back around she found both of them staring at her.
"What? We're done here. Let's go."
"Riley," Veronica hurried to catch up to her. "Wait. Are you—"
"What?" She forced a smile. "I'm fine."
Her friend frowned.
"Shook me up a little, that's all," she assured her.
"What about payment?"
She shook her head and kept walking. "Like I said. I didn't do it for the money."