Chapter 17

I was six the first time I killed someone. When I found they had been carrying a bunch of Fancy Lads, I ate so many I puked pink. I had dreams that the whole world was sickly sweet and dyed fuchsia.

When I was fourteen I stepped on a landmine. I was in a clinic for months.

I had a best friend when I was younger. I met her when I was ten. She died ten years later after venturing into raider territory.

One time I fell off a bridge into the bay and nearly drowned. I never went in the water after that.

I got mugged all the time before I got big. The Regulators were usually no help. They were never around when you needed them. About half the time, the attackers were Leaguers. I hated them both.

I used to steal. A lot. I got pretty good at it before I was old enough to join a mercenary group. There was a man at Pike Place who caught me once, but he gave me the Nuka Cola I'd been trying to get anyway. He sometimes gave me food when I went by after that, but he disappeared after a while. I don't know what happened to him.

I don't really remember what my parents looked like. I don't know what happened to them, either.

I'd been so angry, all the time. The rage built after each injustice done to me, large or small. I'd had friends, a long time ago. But friends were temporary. They either became victims of the wasteland or predators who preyed on other victims. There was no one out there worth the time it took to get to know them. Everyone was out for themselves and no one could really be trusted. The world seemed set against me, and after everything it had done to me I didn't care whether everyone in it lived or died.

"Are you okay?"

I looked up, and Bruce was giving me a concerned look. I realized my face was wet. I wiped my eyes.

"I remember...I remember everything..."

My head pounded. I felt like I was going to vomit. I watched Bruce's expression change from disbelief to horror. His jaw dropped, but he didn't say anything. Idiot...

But no, he wasn't, was he? Why hadn't I ever noticed that? There were so many things that seemed so obvious now that had completely eluded me before. I'd started over after I'd been shot. I'd been a clean slate. And it had given me new eyes, as though I were a child again.

I looked away, putting my head in my hands. Bruce, to my relief, kept silent, presumably waiting to see what I'd do next. I didn't want to do anything. Not for the rest of my life. I wanted to disappear and escape the pounding in my head, the vortex of memories that I wished had just stayed lost in whatever abyss of my brain that they'd hidden in. I was ripped in pieces, torn between fury with Bruce and everyone else who'd fucked me over, frustration at how many stupid things I'd done in the past two months, and despair at how much I hated myself for everything I'd done prior to the past two months. I couldn't decide which pieces of myself I hated most.

When I'd been sitting quiet for too long, Bruce finally ventured to speak. "Ma'am?" he whispered.

And then there was a sharp bang on the door. I looked up. Bruce turned and backed away from it. What now?

There was another bang, and then the door flew open. A rush of people flooded into the room. It was almost comical, like clowns pouring out of a tiny car. There was a great fluttering of dusters, and then I was surrounded by Regulators training their weapons on my head. There must have been ten of them. I stared at them. After all the noise, it was quiet.

I didn't move—half out of surprise, and half because I just couldn't bring myself to care. I'd always thought there would be a fantastic, terrible struggle when this happened. I'd go out with a bang, taking as many people as possible with me. It would be remembered for years. Certainly I wouldn't just sit there and let them take me. Yet that is exactly what I did.

There came the sound of wooden-heeled boots crossing the brick floor. Out of the darkness appeared the chief behind the other Regulators. She looked at me. Something not-quite-pleased crossed her face. Disappointment, maybe. I looked at the wall.

"Chief?" someone in the crowd questioned.

She watched me a moment longer, then stepped back. "Arrest her."

-lll-

My new home was a small, dark cell in the Regulator's station. It contained a bed, sink, toilet, and bench on a dirt floor, and it was very quiet because I was the only prisoner there. I liked it okay, actually. Occasionally someone would come in, to bring food or try to talk to me. I hardly noticed except for the sound when the door to the hallway opened. Inevitably they'd leave after making noise for a while. The nearly dead light flickered whenever the door shut. It was the only source of light, as there were no windows, but I could tell roughly how much time had passed by when they stopped coming in to check up on me. At night they stayed away for a while. I tried to sleep most of the time, night or not. There was too much time to think, and I preferred not to. So I slept. And soon they'd kill me, and then I suppose I'd never have to think again.

I kept wondering why they didn't just do it. Maybe they were tormenting me on purpose. Though, knowing them, they were probably going to have some sort of trial before they did it. Maybe that's how they rationalized their self-appointed authority. There were many people who did terrible things under the flag of good. I had never done much to help anyone else, but at least I didn't bullshit myself about it.

I was sitting on the bench beside the bars one day when I became vaguely aware of someone speaking in the hallway. After a while, someone touched my arm. I pulled away and glared through the bars. Bruce was standing there. He looked at me closely, drawing his hand back to the other side of the door. "Are you alright?" he asked slowly, as if he were talking to a child.

I wasn't sure whether I was more grateful, irritated, or ashamed. I hadn't thought I would see him again. He wasn't in handcuffs. He still had his gun. And he'd been allowed in here without supervision. His presence dragged me painfully away from sleep and into the light of reality. I sighed and leaned back against the wall.

"I was talking to you. Couldn't you hear me?" Bruce said.

"No." My voice croaked from lack of use, and I coughed. "So, did you..." I waved vaguely to the cell. "...orchestrate this?"

"No."

That surprised me a little. I didn't say anything.

"I didn't. I had nothing to do with it," he repeated, with the same sort of voice he used when he thought I was going to hit him. Insistent, hopeful. It was different this time, though. He wasn't trying to convince me of his truthfulness because he was afraid.

"I believe you," I assured him, without much emotion.

"Have you really regained your memory?" he asked after a moment. I gave him a sharp look. He nodded. I didn't need to say anything else on the subject. I could feel him trying to figure me out. Every movement he made was tentative, every word calculated.

"What are you doing here?" I asked him.

He knelt next to the bars so he was closer to eye-level with me. "I've been talking with the Regulators." He pulled the collar of his shirt down, and I looked over to see a neat red line and a row of stitches just below his collarbone.

"They took it out?" I said. "What for?"

"They informed me that when one is deactivated, the other becomes unstable and can malfunction when it comes within range of other radio transmitters. I could have died if they hadn't taken it out."

They would know, I guess. They'd probably liberated more than a few slaves before, even if they couldn't officially interfere with the trade. I smirked. "I told you they wouldn't kill you."

He smiled. I don't think I'd ever seen him smile before. I covered my face with my hands.

Bruce reached through the bars again and put a hand on my arm. I slowly lowered it. He looked as though he was going to say something, then changed his mind. "I told the chief everything that's happened since you were shot," he said instead. "She wants to talk to you."

"Then why doesn't she come in here and do it?"

He hesitated. "We thought... I thought...that you might be more...receptive, if you heard it from me, first."

Sounded like they'd had a nice game of "who wants to talk to the violent, unstable mercenary first?". He didn't sound very sure of himself. But he had guessed right. I would much rather speak to him than anyone else.

"What does she want?"

"She wants to make a deal with you."

I narrowed my eyes. "What does that mean? What kind of deal?"

"She wants to hire you."

I waited, then realized he wasn't joking. I snorted. "What?"

"Let her explain," he said seriously. "I think you should listen to her."

I shrugged. Let her talk. It wasn't as if she could make anything worse than it already was.

Bruce let go of me and stood up. "I'm going to get her," he said, and hurried away as if he was afraid he'd lose me if he took too long. I did not look forward to seeing the chief again.

A few short minutes later, the door to the hall opened again and she appeared with Bruce close behind her. I followed her with my eyes as she walked leisurely toward my cell. She came to a stop in front of my door.

"Nice to see you again," she said, with only a hint of irony. I stared at her expressionlessly. She looked me over a moment longer, then produced a ring of keys. There was a jingling as she unlocked the door, but it slid open with surprisingly little sound. She stepped inside and leaned against the wall, leaving the cell door open behind her.

"When did you figure out it was us?" I asked.

She snorted. "Are you joking? It was obvious nearly from the start. You're the most suspicious person I've ever met. We should have arrested you at Gates' house, but we were short on evidence. Everyone's stories were confused and none of the mercs seemed to know who any of the others were. It wasn't until recently that Gates' assistant came forward with a good description of you."

I rolled my eyes.

"This is the third time I've been in here. Are you finally ready to talk?"

"Just say whatever you're going to say," I replied flatly.

She shrugged. "You were probably expecting to be dead by now. There's a reason you're not."

"You mean you haven't spared me out of the goodness of your heart?"

"You'd be surprised how many people are disinclined to kill indiscriminately," she said. "But no, that wasn't the only reason."

"So?" I prompted.

"We want your help."

"With what?"

She looked at me, unblinking, deadly serious. "We want Anton."

At the sound of the name, something burned inside me. I felt a little more alive. Of course they wanted Anton. What else could I have expected? "Alright," I said, lounging on my bench. "I'll do it."

The chief blinked, and I smiled inwardly at her obvious surprise. "I haven't told you what I want you to do yet," she said.

"Go ahead, then."

She glanced back at Bruce questioningly, the way a teacher chastising a student might look to their parent for guidance, but he had nothing for her.

"I wasn't expecting you to be so cooperative," she said to me.

I never expected to be working with Regulators on anything, either. But if I was being offered a possible way out of this, I was going to take it. Especially if it had the added bonus of getting rid of the psychopath who thought blowing up the city was the way to win its heart. "That guy's a rat bastard. If you think I have to like someone to take money from them, you're wrong. And it's not like I have much else to do," I added, gesturing sarcastically around the cell.

She smirked. "So he's as unpleasant in person as I picture him? He's never deigned to speak with me. Not for lack of trying on my part."

I nodded, and almost smiled back. For some reason I found it hard to sustain dislike for her. We could have been friends maybe, under other circumstances. I was under no illusions: we were on still on opposite sides. But the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the wasteland, you learned to take what you could get.

You also learned not to piss off the person holding a gun to your head.

The chief sat down on the bed across from me and described her plan.

-lll-

Bruce didn't need to lead the way to the space needle. I knew where to go. I could feel the Regulators' eyes on us as we walked. I spotted one once in a while, in the window of a building or in an alley. They weren't going to let us out of their sight for a moment. They had planned an attack on the space needle. The only problem with a direct attack was that Anton would have an escape plan for if that happened. So the fact that Anton trusted me, at least enough to let me come up to meet him, and that he was too proud to keep any guards posted inside, were integral to our success. To the Regulators' success. My task was to keep him where he was while the Regulators took care of the Leaguers on the ground—whether he lived or died didn't seem to concern them. It was a bold strategy and I wasn't sure it was going to work, but our part sounded simple enough. After that, hypothetically, the Regulators would take control of the League in the vacuum of power that was created in Anton's absence.

It was quiet until Bruce suddenly asked, "What's your name?"

I frowned. I opened my mouth to tell him, then thought better of it. "It doesn't matter. The person who was called that doesn't exist anymore."

Bruce looked down, and smiled faintly. "I suppose so."

He had a nice smile. It was my own fault I'd never seen it before. I stared at the road ahead. "What will you do after this?" I asked, pointedly ignoring the glaring fact that we might not even make it through this.

"The chief has offered me a place with the Regulators."

I slowed and looked down at him. "She has?" I felt a pang of disappointment, but quickly pushed it away. "You're not really going to do it, are you?"

"Well...I was thinking about it," he said, glancing up to check my reaction. "That's one of the reasons I'm coming along. It's some kind of loyalty test for me, I think."

I scratched at the slowly healing wound on my chest. "You'd probably look good in a duster," I said slowly. "Just don't let them give you one of those stupid hats."

"I like the one I have," he replied.

As for what would happen to me when this was over, I was still uncertain. The chief said I could avoid execution if I did this for them. I was skeptical, but I also doubted Regulators would lie, even for the greater good. Either way, I wouldn't be seeing much of Seattle after this. I'd be pushing my luck if I stayed.

"It will be...strange, not having you here," Bruce said, apparently thinking the same thing.

"Yeah," I agreed. We'd been together a long time.

"I've never been by myself. I've never not been a slave. I don't really know what I'm supposed to do."

I laughed humorlessly. "That's stupid."

"I know."

My smirk faded. I thought for a moment. "You do whatever you want. You do that half the time, anyway. I doubt it will be as difficult as you think."

He shrugged.

"If I can do it, you sure as hell can." As I spoke, we rounded a corner and the space needle came into view. We were silent the rest of the way.

I stopped as we approached the guards posted in front of the entrance. "I have something to deliver," I told them, and the one on the left nodded. I recognized him from our last visit. Easy.

"Took your time, didn't you?" He commented as I handed him my weapons. We went unhurriedly to the towering white structure and stepped into the elevator. Through the grimy window I could see someone in a cowboy hat and duster crossing the street near the gate. One of the guards nudged the other and nodded toward the figure. He had good reason to take notice. Leaguers and Regulators usually steered clear of each other. This was going to be messy.

The elevator dinged cheerfully when it stopped at the top. We stepped out into the dim. The orange light of the setting sun streamed weakly through the windows, lighting up dust particles in the air. The guard in the elevator took us up to the office but did not follow us in. As he closed the door behind us, I slowly crossed the floor toward the polished wooden desk where our new sat. Our last target. He sat with his back straight, scrawling something in a ledger. I cleared my throat.

He looked up. A small but satisfied smile spread across his face. "You've returned." He set down his pen and stood. "You have the transmitter?"

"I got it, yeah." All I had to do now was wait for the Regulators to get moving.

"I'm pleased that your performance has improved."

"Great."

"It is, for both of us," he assured me. He chose to ignore Bruce, who stood quietly beside me. "The League is about to move up in the world, and so are you."

"Oh yeah?"

"I'd like you to join the League and work for me full time. There will be a lot of work to do after the Regulators are gone. We'll have to deal with stragglers, reinforcements from other states, maybe even uprisings within the League..."

"I don't want to join the League," I said.

He waved a hand. "The League is irrelevant. The only person you need to report to is me. Did I mention how much you'll be paid?"

"No thanks."

He gave me a confused look. I smiled. It wasn't very often that people said no to him, I'd guess.

"Any particular reason why?" he asked.

"I fear commitment."

He glared at me for a moment, obviously unamused. Then he opened his desk drawer. "Very well," he said, and drew a handgun from the drawer. My smile disappeared like ice under a blowtorch. "Are you familiar with the phrase, 'he who is not with me is against me'?"

I held up my hands. "Hey, wait. I'm not against anyone." I had not expected things to get violent before the attack below even started. I took a subtle step to the side, in front of Bruce. I was still wearing my vest.

"I don't know what kind of mercenary you are, but someone who won't be bought is no use to me. And I can't have loose ends running around while I'm trying to stage a revolution." He pulled the gun's hammer back.

There was a gunshot outside. Then several more in quick succession, some closer than the first. Anton took a cautious step back to look out the window.

I leapt forward, grabbed the ledger from his desk, and threw it at his face. He shot when I moved, and missed. I jumped over the desk, reaching for the gun. My foot caught on something and I went crashing into him. He made a breathless sound as he slammed against the floor with me on top of him. The gun went sliding away.

The gunshots outside sounded off like a fireworks display as we traded punches. I heard several explosions. Grenades. Eventually I got enough leverage to hold down Anton.

"Tell me again about this revolution you were going to have?" I said. He spat at me. I leaned away to peer under the desk to the other side. "Bruce?" I called. There was a dripping sound. I heard him step around the desk. I looked up, and was horror-stricken. "Oh, shit..."

He held the side of his face tightly. Blood dripped down his arm and spotted his left side. I had forgotten to get stims before I left. I hadn't planned on getting shot at up here. Taking advantage of the distraction, Anton thrashed beneath me. I pulled him up by the shoulders and slammed him back down, hard. He grunted as his head hit the floor. The building shook with the force of an explosion outside.

"How bad is it?" I asked Bruce. "Are you okay?"

He shrugged slowly, looking bewildered. He moved his hand, very carefully. There was a gash in his cheek, and a lot of blood. I swear I could feel it just looking at it.

Anton thrashed again, and with a snarl I slammed him against the floor two, three, four more times. He snarled back, but was beginning to look a bit faint.

I looked up at Bruce again, breathing hard. He was looking vacantly out the window at the battle below. He had not gone to get the gun.

"The bullet went through?" I asked him, trying to pull him out of whatever world he was in.

He turned to me and slowly nodded. "I think it—" he gasped softly. His teeth were coated red. "...Graze," he finished, trying to move his mouth as little as possible.

It didn't look like a graze to me. "It'll be alright," I said instead.

There was a deafening explosion, and the building shook so hard that we all went careening to the side, hitting the wall one after another. Our fight forgotten, we all looked out the window. The figures on the battlefield below had stopped shooting to look up at us. One of the legs of the building had been blown nearly in half at the base. There was the unmistakeable groan of slowly bending metal. The three of us exchanged looks of silent dread.

Anton was the first to move. He darted toward the elevators. I lurched after him and dove to grab his leg before he could get any farther. He fell forward.

"Are you crazy?" he shouted, turning back to look at me. He kicked out at my head. I ducked and grabbed his other leg. "Let go of me! They've destroyed the base of the building; we're all going to die if we don't get out of here!"

"Go," I said to Bruce, ignoring Anton. Behind him, the landscape in the window was tilting ever-so-slightly. The elevators would get stuck if the building kept moving. I swallowed. "I saw the door to the stairs near the elevator. Go."

"What?" he said back, and winced in pain. He looked angry. He finally seemed to be coming back to Earth. "You can't just stay up here. Forget him, let's just go!"

"You know I can't run that fast. I won't make it down."

"You could try!" he sputtered. The floor vibrated, and he stumbled.

"Quit wasting time and get out of here," I said through clenched teeth.

He gazed at me furiously. He opened his mouth to speak, then flinched and covered his face again. He glared a moment longer, then shook his head. He turned and ran toward the elevator. I watched him go.

The bottom of Anton's book hit me square in the face. Everything was black for a millisecond, and I felt my nose bleeding.

"Pardon me," he grunted, and kicked again. "But I'd rather not be a part of your suicide, if it's all the same to you." He drew back his foot to kick again, but I caught it and pushed down to keep him still. Fighting exhaustion, I crawled forward. As he reached toward me, I caught his wrist and took hold of his throat with my other hand, keeping just out of reach of his other hand.

"It's too late," I said. "We're going down together."

"You're insane."

"The world would be a better place without people like us," I replied, then drew back my fist, and hit him as hard as I could. He didn't move anymore.

I took a breath, then slowly got to my feet. The floor had taken on a definite slant. The thin legs that held up the top of the building were bending slowly, cracking as massive bolts popped under the strain. I stumbled and nearly fell as the floor vibrated and pitched violently. Step by shaky step, I made my way to a door frame at the end of the room and braced myself against it.

The view out the window angled downward more and more. It was falling faster now. The furniture in the room began sliding toward the windows. I watched the world turn sideways, coming closer and closer. Soon the city disappeared and I could only see the ground. The Leaguers and Regulators had all scattered, leaving behind the dead and the scorch marks they'd made on the dirt and pavement. I held tightly to the wall. The earth flew toward me. The sounds of twisting metal and crashing glass and wood became white noise. I closed my eyes.

-lll-

It was dark. I contemplated whether I was dreaming. But no, I was definitely awake. I could not move. How oddly familiar.

I was lying on something—I was too numb to tell what. My eyelids felt glued shut. Very slowly, I pried them open. I could see only a dark blur. I swallowed dryly and tried to focus. The room gradually distilled into solid shapes. I was lying on a hard bed in a small, dim room with peeling wallpaper and no door. There was an IV stand next to me which was draining into my arm.

Suddenly my heart beat faster. I pushed myself up to look down at my legs. Someone had removed my prosthetic. My other leg was still there. I tried moving it, and it shifted to the right. I examined it carefully for a moment, longer, then eased back down onto the bed. There had only been one other time when I'd woken up attached to an IV. As if to remind me, my phantom leg began clenching painfully. At least the rest of me felt awful, too. The phantom pain didn't seem so bad by comparison. I sighed, and looked at the ceiling. Several insects circled the yellowed light fixture silently. I didn't know what kind of drugs they'd given me, but the movement of the bugs was strangely mesmerizing. I found myself fading in and out.

After a while, a shadow fell over me. An overweight old woman had come in and was checking the IV she was wearing a green armband. I narrowed my eyes. She began fiddling with the tube in my arm. When she finished, she glanced up at my face and started when she saw me watching her.

"Oh! You're awake!"

I didn't bother to respond. I felt like a sack of lead. The numbness was wearing off, and every part of me burned and throbbed painfully.

"You should have told someone you were up," the woman chastised.

As far as I'd seen, no one had passed by since I'd awoken. I shrugged minimally. "Where is this?" My voice came out soft and raspy.

"The downtown clinic," she replied, crossing her arms. "Boy, are you a lucky one. I don't think any one person's ever had so many stimpaks. We hardly had any left for anyone else," she added with a note of disapproval. "By the way, are you feeling any side effects from the stims? Nausea, numbness or tingling, headache?"

She didn't seem to know who I was. I let myself relax a little bit. "Yes," I said groggily.

"Which ones?"

"All of them. Do you have anything for pain?"

"You haven't had enough drugs?" she muttered, but went to a cabinet on the wall and retrieved a small bottle and needle.

"What happened? Is...anyone else here?"

"Sure, lots of people. But you mean the short guy with the glasses, right? He didn't take a quarter as much work as you did. He's been in and out. He'll be back soon, I'm sure." She poked me in the arm with the syringe. "It's a shame about the needle."

"Huh?"

"That wreck they pulled you out of?" she clarified, raising her eyebrows. "It was the icon of the city. Lasted through the Great War, but not through you."

"Looked like a spaceship on stilts."

She looked like she didn't like my tone. "Well some of us liked it. What in the world was going on up there, anyway? It's been days and no one can get a straight answer. Were there really super mutants? I haven't seen one of those in years."

"I don't remember," I lied.

She looked like she didn't believe me, but didn't question me further. "You've got a lot of lucky stars to thank," she told me, moving to the doorway. "And thank your friend, too. He won't stop bothering us. He's annoying, but he's doing it because he's worried about you."

I couldn't tell if it was night or not, but soon after the nurse left I fell asleep anyway. She stopped in periodically to check on me. The fourth time she came in, she paused at the door. Too tired to open my eyes, I asked for more morphine. When she didn't answer, I looked up. It was Bruce, not the nurse, standing just outside the room. He carried a large backpack. I could see the end of my sniper rifle sticking out of it. "Um...I brought your stuff," he said. There was a piece of gauze taped over his cheek. He spoke quietly and was careful not to move his mouth too much. He glanced at my legs. "Your prosthetic was smashed, but I found someone who can fix it. It'll take a few more days to finish."

"Thanks..." Even at my best I wouldn't have been able to voice everything I needed to say to him. But now, half dead and so full of drugs and medicine that I was half asleep as well, I could hardly keep my thoughts together. "I'm...still alive," I said thickly. "You, too."

Bruce smiled. "Yes." He set the backpack down on the floor, and sat in the chair next to my bed.

"Wait...you took my prosthetic to get it fixed? How'd you pay for that? We didn't have much cash, last I knew."

"I had some saved up."

"Saved up? From where? I never gave you any money."

"You never counted it, so you never noticed when any was missing," he said matter-of-factly.

I blinked slowly. "You...you were stealing caps from me?"

He frowned. "Well, I helped you make the money in the first place. I should get some anyway," he said defensively.

I snorted, then winced and held my stomach protectively. "I don't think that's how slavery works."

"I don't think you're supposed to have people who hate you do your accounting, either."

"Stop making me laugh."

"I wasn't trying to."

I nodded at the gauze on his face. "What happened? Is it okay?"

He carefully peeled away the bandage and turned to show me. A harsh red line ran from near his ear almost down to the corner of his mouth. Quite a few stitches lined the wound.

"Why didn't they just stim it?" I asked.

"It will heal more cleanly this way," he replied, moving the gauze back into place. "I'm not supposed to talk too much."

"That shouldn't be difficult for you."

"No."

There didn't seem to be anything wrong with him. I would be lying if I said I wasn't hugely relieved. "So you got out in time."

"No. I almost did. You were right, you wouldn't have made it. The staircase bent until it cracked and fell out from under me. I broke several bones."

"You look fine to me."

"Miracles of modern medicine," he replied wryly. "After the needle fell, the chief was running around looking for us. Everyone had quit fighting. She found me and got me some stims. It took them a while to find you."

"You mean they bothered to look for me?" I muttered.

"Well...they were looking for Anton, but you were sort of in the same vicinity."

"Uh-huh."

"He didn't make it. I...I couldn't believe that you did. Even after we found you, I didn't think you would last much longer."

"Yeah...me too," I murmured. We looked at each other. He shifted his gaze to the floor.

"Hey," I said quietly, "what's up with this place? My nurse is a Leaguer. So were some of the others I saw walking by."

He looked up. "Yeah. They run the clinic."

"Aren't they upset that we...you know...just killed their boss?"

"I wondered about that, too," he said thoughtfully. "But I don't know that it's had a huge effect on them. The League is going to keep going mostly the same as it always has, regardless of who's in charge. I don't think most of them either know or care about who runs their organization so long as it keeps running. There has been minimal violent backlash. Most of it was from the guards at the space needle. Maybe Anton should not have been as reclusive as he was." He shrugged. "Most people like the Regulators, anyway—even most of the Leaguers I've met. I think the main reason a rivalry existed was because Anton perpetuated it. Without him, resistance will die off quickly."

I had expected worse. But, I suppose, people usually took the path of least resistance.

"The chief said that you should leave as soon as you recover," Bruce said hesitantly. "She said it would cause problems if you stayed around. Only a few of the other Regulators know exactly who you are, but it won't stay that way for long."

He sounded like he thought I wouldn't like to hear that. I didn't, but I'd been planning to leave anyway. I just rolled my eyes. My leg clenched again. I sighed and closed my eyes, trying not to feel anything.

"What's wrong?" Bruce asked.

"My leg hurts," I grumbled, giving in and feeling sorry for myself. "They cut it off almost twenty years ago. It's not enough that I don't fucking have it anymore, it has to hurt all the time to remind me, too. Fuck." I exhaled slowly, trying to calm myself. "The morphine is helping everything else, but it doesn't seem to effect phantom pain."

Bruce was quiet for a moment. Then he got up. "I'll be right back," he said, and left the room.

A few minutes later he came back, carrying a tall, thin mirror. "Can you sit up?" he asked.

"I haven't tried." With much effort, I leaned forward to prop myself up on my elbows. My neck cracked. Everything was stiff and heavy. After a pause, I slowly pushed myself up into a sitting position. My chest ached. "What's that for?" I asked, looking at the mirror.

He set it down beside the bed. "Swing your legs over the side."

I was beginning to grow impatient, but complied. He pushed the mirror forward so that it reflected the inner side of my right leg. I gave him a questioning glance.

"If you look at it from the right angle, it looks like you've still got both of them," he said.

"Yeah, I guess," I said, leaning to look into the mirror. "So?"

He didn't say anything right away. I watched the mirror, moving my foot gently back and forth. I smiled faintly. After a few moments, something strange happened. My jaw dropped. "What the hell?"

"...Does that mean it's working?" Bruce asked.

As I moved my foot, I could feel the phantom move along with it. The pain began to ebb as I moved, as though the cramping muscles had finally released, after twenty years. "How does it do that?"

"It's a common treatment for phantom pain. If the brain can be fooled into thinking a missing limb is still in pain, it can be fooled into thinking the pain has been alleviated. It may eventually stop altogether if you keep doing it."

"But how..." I stared at the mirror, in awe. "Those nurses really know their stuff, don't they?"

"I read about it in a book, actually."

"Really? What book?"

He suddenly looked guilty. "Just...one that I had around..."

One of the ones he'd had at 1106, he meant. I stopped swinging my foot. "You read it a long time ago, didn't you?"

He glanced to the side. "A while ago, yes."

I glared at him, and he shrugged in a manner that said he didn't regret not telling me. I was reminded of why I'd disliked him so much. But my anger didn't last long. "Bruce..."

He watched, waiting for me to continue. I started falteringly, but then it all began pouring out of me all at once. "I'm so sorry. For everything I did to you. You never deserved any of it. I am never going to do that to anyone else again. A lot of things happened to me when I was younger, I just...I didn't start out that way. Somehow I just didn't take notice or care when I got older and I started doing things like..." I glanced at the scars on his wrists, and quickly looked away again. "Like that. I don't know why it took getting shot in the head for me to realize that there was something wrong with me. I know it doesn't make a difference now, but I'm sorry."

He took a heavy breath, breathing out slowly. "It makes a difference," he assured me quietly.

My leg began to hurt again, and I bent to look in the mirror. "Are you really going to become a Regulator?"

"Don't you think I should?"

I shook my head. "I'm not going to decide for you."

"...Yes, I am."

I didn't look up at him, but he could probably see the disappointment on my face anyway.

"I can't go with you," he said softly, with resolve but almost apologetically. He wasn't going to change his mind. "If I keep following you around I'll just be doing the same thing I've been doing for the rest of my life, and there's no point to it. I need to go do something on my own."

"I know."

We sat quietly for a minute. I set the mirror to the side. Bruce stood up.

"I just came to give you that," he said pointing to the pack. "And I told the nurses where you can pick up your prosthetic. I'm going back to see the chief now."

I nodded. We weren't going to be seeing each other for a long time, after this. Maybe never, even. The both of us were starting anew, now. "Maybe I'll have a new name to tell you, next time we meet," I said.

"I hope so," he said, pausing at the doorway. He flashed me a ghost of a smile. Then he turned, and left.

I watched the empty doorway a while longer. Then I took a breath and pushed off of the bed. I eased down until all my weight rested on my foot. It hurt, but not so much that I couldn't do it. Carefully, I let go of the bed so that I stood on my own. It wasn't easy, but I could balance there.

It was going to be a long journey to wherever I was going, but I was strong enough to carve a new path, and I was strong enough to do it on my own.

—The End—


To everyone who read: Thanks for sticking with it these seventy-some thousand words, and I hope you enjoyed it. Don't forget to review or PM your comments. They really do help!

Also: I think it's cool how Fallout games always take place in real world settings and have fairly accurate maps. For the curious, here are real places visited in this story: Enumclaw, Beacon Hill, Sodo, I-5, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Medina, Lake Union, Pike Place, Denny Triangle, Seattle Center, Pioneer Square/the Underground, and Puget Sound.